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Patrik Laine far from satisfied by fast start

Jets rookie has 12 goals in 20 NHL games, determined to improve

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

BOSTON -- The numbers are eye-popping. Just shy of a quarter of the way through the NHL season, Patrik Laine has 12 goals, tied with Sidney Crosby, more than Steven Stamkos (nine), more than Alex Ovechkin (eight).

The 18-year-old rookie right wing, who is tied for the League lead in goals, had yet to know his NHL destination five months ago, before he was selected with the No. 2 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft by the Winnipeg Jets.

Even with this rarefied status, with 21.8 percent of his shots going past opposing goaltenders, much of what Laine wanted to talk about on Saturday boiled down to this: He needs to be better. His team needs to be better.

Part of that can be attributed to what is top of mind, a minus-4 against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday, a 5-2 loss that clearly prompted some uncomfortable moments for the supremely confident Laine.

Asked for a global view of his first 20 games in the NHL, Laine said, "You have to play your best game the whole time. If you are not on your game, it's minus-4, like in the last game. You just have to learn from your mistakes and try to be better every day and try to hope that we can be better as a team and I can be better as a player."

Laine followed up the Flyers game with two shots on goal and an assist in his next game, a 4-1 loss to the Boston Bruins on Saturday.

Video: DAL@WPG: Laine leads Jets to rout with hatty

He is not a fully formed player. Not even close. He is a teenager, navigating his first months as a professional. And although it has gone well - very well, better than probably anyone could have been expected - there's also the sense from both sides there is so much further to go.

"I've learned his desire to learn," Jets center Mark Scheifele said. "He wants to be a good player. He expects a lot out of himself. That's the biggest thing I've learned about him. He wants to be one of the best in the League and he wants to learn the game.

"He wants to be an elite player and he doesn't think he's there already. He doesn't take anything for granted."

Perhaps there is are a few things we can take for granted: Laine is a goal-scorer, a great one. He has a shot that is among the most impressive in the NHL. He is among the impressive talents who recently entered the NHL.

But he is far where he wants to be, and where he'll ultimately need to be, in his own mind and that of Jets coach Paul Maurice.

"He understands that this is a different game," Maurice said. "The Jets have a different way of playing and then every team in the NHL, he's started to realize that there are subtle differences with each team and the game changes on you. And that is a learning curve for all young players."

Video: LAK@WPG: Laine shows off moves for shootout goal

Laine has listened to the staff. He has taken in the adjustments they've asked him to make defensively.

"He understands that there's more to what he'll do for our team than scoring goals," Maurice said. "We love the goals and that's a big part of his game, but this guy is a top-six player at 18, which means he's playing against top-four, top-two sets of 'D' on that line and the margin for error and what you give up against the top lines is dangerous. So those are all things that young players or amateur players don't spend a whole lot of time thinking about, so there's a lot to kind of cram in.

"We've probably worked hard at not over-coaching the young man, and he's a quick learner, a quick study."

Which likely means there won't be too many days when Laine is beating himself up, when he's lamenting what was, rather than celebrating another goal, another hat trick, another remarkable performance.

This has been, in some ways, exactly what Laine hoped and expected his introduction to the NHL would be. He wanted to bring his offensive firepower, to help his team and its power play and to win. He has done that. The Jets (9-9-2) have done that.

But, as he said, "I have to be better every day. We need more points as a team, so we have to play better and I have to be better."

Video: TOR@WPG: Laine erupts for first NHL hat trick

How so?

"I think just not being on the ice every time the opponent scores," Laine said. "And just defend well and if I got the scoring chance, like I got a couple good scoring chances in the last game, you have to score from those. So I think that's one thing of the many that I can be better [at]."

It's that attitude that has impressed everyone, his teammates, his coaches - that with all the confidence of youth, all the confidence particular to Laine, that his belief is that he is not yet good enough, the offensive results to the contrary.

"He's handled it really well," Scheifele said of the attention. "For an 18-year-old, I don't know how he does it. He's humble and he wants to win, that's what I've learned about him. He wants to help the team. The personal stuff comes later for him, which is huge for a young guy in his position.

"It's exciting to see a player like that. He's so mature, but he's been going through it his whole life. He asks questions and he wants to help the team and learn from the leaders on the team."

Laine wants more. He wants more than the 12 goals he has scored, more than the 20 points his team has earned, more than the foibles of a young player still adjusting allow. He wants to improve and learn and practice and transform himself. He wants more, and that's good news for him, and for the Jets.

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