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Confidence key for Finnish draft prospect Laine

by Mike G. Morreale

Every Thursday, will look ahead to the 2016 NHL Draft with an in-depth profile on one of its top prospects.

A little confidence has gone a long way for right wing Patrik Laine of Tappara in Finland in realizing his full potential.

Laine, an A-rated skater on NHL Central Scouting's November players to watch list, could very well be a top-five selection in the 2016 NHL Draft.

"Laine is a player with great offensive instincts and a nose for the net," said Goran Stubb, NHL Director of European Scouting. "He is not only a sniper, he's also a very effective playmaker and passer who knows his defensive duties. He has matured both on and off the ice."

Patrik Laine could be a top-five selection in the 2016 NHL Draft. (Photo: Mikko Pylkko)

Laine gained the attention of most scouts in April at the 2015 IIHF Under-18 World Championship in Switzerland when he scored eight goals and 11 points in seven games to help lead Finland to a silver medal. His offensive output was certainly surprising, considering he had five goals and 12 points in 36 games while on loan with LeKi in Mestis in Finland's minor-league system.

"Playing with my home team was quite difficult because I didn't get a lot of ice time and my confidence was quite down," Laine said. "I don't know what exactly happened at the under-18 tournament. I know I had great linemates."

Laine's linemates were fellow 2016 NHL Draft-eligible right wing Jesse Puljujarvi and Aleksi Saarela, who was selected by the New York Rangers in the 2015 NHL Draft. The trio formed one of the more dynamic line combinations at the tournament, combining for 13 goals and 26 points.

"Our line was good in the tournament and when your confidence goes up, it's easier to get goals and have success," Laine said.

Laine was asked if he considered himself a better draft-eligible prospect than Puljujarvi. Laine and Puljujarvi are the only A-rated skaters on Central Scouting's players to watch list from Finland.

"I think Jesse is a better skater than me but I can read the game better than him," Laine said with a grin. "I think that's the biggest difference between us. My strengths are scoring goals and playing with the puck in the offensive end."

He also likes the physical part of the game, something he believes he'll enjoy even more once established in North America.

"I like to tackle and mess up the opposition," he said. "I like playing physical. I have these skills so I know I need to do the physical job; I like that."

Laine's Canadian Hockey League rights are held by the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League. The Sting selected him No. 24 in the 2015 CHL Import Draft.

"It's good to have another option to play somewhere else if it doesn't work out in Finland," Laine said.

What makes Laine (6-foot-4, 206 pounds) such an intriguing prospect is the fact that while he's a prototypical power forward, he also had a great set of hands from in close around the goal cage.

Mikko Rantanen, who was selected 10th by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2015 NHL Draft, was complimentary of Laine when discussing him during the United States National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., in August. Laine is expected to represent his country at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship in Helsinki, Finland from Dec. 26, 2015, through Jan. 5, 2016.

He and Puljujarvi were each invited to participate in Finland's junior select camp that begins Dec. 13 at the Vierumaki Training Centre.

"He's a goal scorer with a terrific shot," Rantanen said of Laine. "I think he has the best shot on this team right now and he has improved his skating too. He moves well and is just big and strong."

Finland national junior coach Jukka Jalonen likes what he sees in Laine.

"I think if there's any comparison to be made with [Auston] Matthews, Laine might be the one," Jalonen said.

Matthews, currently playing for Zurich in Switzerland's top professional league, is the projected No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.

Hakan Andersson, Director of European Scouting for the Detroit Red Wings, considers Laine the complete package and said any team would be lucky to add him to their roster at the 2016 draft.

"He's similar to Puljujarvi in some ways; he's a big body with a right-handed shot and good hands," Andersson said. "He might be a little bit more of a pure goal scorer but he's a very exciting player to watch. He might also be a little more physical in terms of pure hitting.

"Is there a formula somewhere that would allow us to still be in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and have a chance to pick one of these players? That would be very nice."

Laine played three shifts before injuring his shoulder in the first period of a league game against Puljujarvi and Karpat on Oct. 8. He returned to the lineup 20 days later and has five goals, 13 points, a plus-1 rating and 110 shots on goal in 22 games this season. He's averaging 16:03 in ice time.

"I've enjoyed my time in Tappara," Laine said. "It's a very good organization with good coaches and they know what they're doing. I've been eating good and doing lots of weight lifting and strength training. I think it is definitely helping strengthen my overall game."

The preliminary round of the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship runs Dec. 26-31 at Helsinki Ice Hall in Finland.

The medal round will be held Jan. 2-5, 2016. The gold medal game is scheduled Jan. 5 at Hartwall Arena in Helsinki. The 10-team tournament consists of Russia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Finland and Belarus in Group B, and the United States, Canada, Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland in Group A.

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