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Patrik Laine to take first step on NHL journey

Jets forward ready for debut against Hurricanes on Thursday

NHL.com @NHL

Winnipeg Jets forward Patrik Laine, the No. 2 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, will make his regular-season debut against the Carolina Hurricanes at MTS Centre in Winnipeg on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; TSN3, FS-CR, NHL.TV).

Jets coach Paul Maurice had Laine, 18, playing left wing on the third line with center Mathieu Perreault in training camp, but nothing has been set in stone.

"All our young wingers, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine, can play the left and right side, so over the course of the year they will all play different positions," Maurice told the Jets website. "I encourage that. I want to see that because who the player is now will be much different a month from now, and two months from that. We're going to move these guys around a lot. I'm sensitive to the chemistry, but we also need to get to know them and how they fit."

It remains to be seen where Laine ultimately will play in the Winnipeg lineup, but he's eager to begin his NHL career in front of the Jets hometown fans.

"Of course, the city and the team has some kind of expectations for me, but I just want to ignore that," Laine told the Jets website. "I try to focus on my job, which is playing hockey so that I'm good at it."

Laine had seven goals and five assists at the 2016 IIHF World Championship and was named tournament MVP for Finland, which won the silver medal. He also was named MVP of the playoffs in Liiga, Finland's top professional league, after helping Tappara win the championship. He had 33 points (17 goals, 16 assists) in 46 regular-season games for Tappara, and 15 points (10 goals, five assists) in 18 playoff games.

Laine helped Finland win the gold medal at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship and played at the World Cup of Hockey 2016.

He had no points, a minus-1 rating and six shots on goal in four preseason games with the Jets, but did receive plenty of ice time in many different situations.

"Everything is new, and bigger," Laine said. "I think it's going to be my home soon. I'm going to feel like that. It's obviously a hockey city, and everybody knows the team. It's kind of this city's team."

Maurice believes patience and not expecting too much, too soon, will be the key with Laine.

"I had another No. 2 overall pick when I was coach in Carolina in Eric Staal," Maurice said. "In training camp and over the first half of the year, you could see the things Eric wanted to do, and you knew, because of who he was, that he would be able to do it. It was just a matter of time."

Staal, the No. 2 pick in the 2003 NHL Draft by the Hurricanes, had 31 points (11 goals, 20 assists) in 81 games as a rookie in 2003-04.

"Patrik is going to be able to do all those things he's always been able to do," Maurice said. "How long it takes him to do it, I don't know, but he's going to get a chance to play. He fits in to what we're trying to do as a hockey team, so you'll live with some mistakes that are youth-generated, but he's a very special talent and I would not be surprised if he comes in and is able to finish and put up numbers.

"Of all the positions to join the NHL in, the wing is the most forgiving."

Jets captain Blake Wheeler is excited about perhaps playing on a line with Laine.

"He's one of those guys that whenever he gets the puck, there's a chance something is going to happen," Wheeler said. "He's a pretty unique guy, pretty unique talent; it's pretty easy to play with in terms of what I do out there and what he does. There seemed to be a pretty good fit there."

In June, Laine told NHL.com he believes he could score 50 goals.

"I think I have the ability and that talent that you need and the skills that you need to score that many goals and points," he said. "I think it someday could be possible, and I want to work hard so that I can make that come true one day."

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