Laine expected to play for Jets in opener after signing, coach says
Forward rejoining Winnipeg after getting two-year, $13.5 million contractby Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer
WINNIPEG -- Patrik Laine, who agreed to terms on a two-year, $13.5 million contract with the Winnipeg Jets on Friday, is expected to be in the lineup when they open the 2019-20 NHL season at the New York Rangers on Thursday.
"Being that he's been training, and has been training with men, our expectation is he'll be able to come and move around the ice pretty good," Jets coach Paul Maurice said of the 21-year-old forward, who was a restricted free agent and has not played this preseason.
Maurice said he was not prepared to say who Laine's linemates would be upon his return.While training with SC Bern in Switzerland, Laine told a Finnish newspaper he wanted to play on the top line with Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele.
"Let's just get him on the ice and we'll just move from there before I lay out the grand plan for Patrik," Maurice said.
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Laine is expected to arrive in Winnipeg on Monday for fitness testing and a physical, and then join the Jets for practice Tuesday before their flight to New York.
"Really important in that he does get a chance to start the season and get some practices in and get into a rhythm right from the get-go," Maurice said. "It's good that he was at least on the ice with a professional hockey team. We had a tough (training) camp and there's a benefit to that for sure, and he missed out on that benefit, but great that he's in before the start."
Maurice didn't say if he thought Laine's conditioning would be behind that of his teammates.
"If [he] is, we'll get him up to speed," he said. "Guys that miss training camp are sometimes behind. Sometimes they're not. We'll just work with him."
Video: Laine, Jets agree to two-year, $13.5 million deal
The No. 2 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, Laine had 50 points (30 goals, 20 assists) in 82 games last season, the fewest in his three-season NHL career. He scored 44 goals in 2017-18 and 36 in 2016-17, and his 110 goals during those three seasons are sixth in the NHL.
"Obviously it's exciting news," Jets forward Nikolaj Ehlers said. "He's a guy most of the guys in here have played with for most of the last three years and created a bond with. He's a brother and he's coming home and we're excited for that."
Wheeler, the Winnipeg captain, said, "We're excited, excited to have him back. He makes us a better team. ... We're getting toward the end [of camp] here. Our group's been good. We've had lot to deal with throughout camp and the guys that have showed up and put the work in, we're forming a pretty tight group here. So it's going to be great to welcome guys back whenever they get here, and we know [Laine is] coming back next week and we'll have him for the first game, and hopefully we can hit the ground running."
The Jets are without forward Kyle Connor, who remains a restricted free agent, and defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, who is suspended after being granted a leave of absence for personal reasons.