WINNIPEG -- Patrik Laine apologized to Winnipeg Jets linemate Bryan Little for comments in a Finnish newspaper this week that appeared to be critical of him, Little said Thursday.
"He was saying sorry and apologizing for just the way I think it was interpreted, which I kind of understood before I even talked to him," said Little, who said he called Laine after receiving a text from him. "I know Patty well enough to know that he's not someone that's going to purposely say negative things, especially about his teammates."
Laine, a restricted free agent who has missed the first six days of training camp, appeared to be criticizing Little when he said he wanted to play on Winnipeg's top line.
"When I'm negotiating a new contract, I always want to know who I'll be playing with," Laine told Iltalehti in remarks published Tuesday. "With my merits, I would play with the best elsewhere. Everybody who understands something about hockey knows that.
"There are the top lines and then there has been our line. I'll play with whomever I'm told to."
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Little has been Laine's center during much of Laine's three seasons with Winnipeg, frequently on the second line with Nikolaj Ehlers, though in the past two seasons Laine has also played with centers Paul Stastny (now with the Vegas Golden Knights) and Adam Lowry, and had stretches on the top line with center Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler.
Little said he told Laine there was no need to apologize.
"Sometimes those things are misunderstood," Little said. "I knew right away he wants to play with the best players. That's the kind of the way he was saying it. And yeah, [Scheifele] and [Wheeler] are our best players, and I'd like to play with those guys too. I think everyone does.
"When you're young, you want to score more goals and get more points and play with the best and get more ice time and stuff like that. I think he was just voicing that. He just wants to be one of our go-to guys."
Little said he did not ask Laine about contract negotiations during their conversation and told him only that he hoped to see him soon. He said the call left him with a positive feeling.
"I feel like I know him well enough to know what he's trying to say and where he's coming from," Little said. "The fact that he texted me confirmed what kind of guy he is; he's a great guy."
Laine is training with SC Bern in Switzerland. The No. 2 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, he had 50 points (30 goals, 20 assists) in 82 games with the Jets last season and has 184 points (110 goals, 74 assists) in three NHL seasons.
Coach Paul Maurice said it was good that Laine and Little spoke.
"When something like that comes out, whether it's direct or in an indirect way and seems to disparage a teammate, you do the right thing and pick up the phone," Maurice said. "And then those are the only two guys that have to answer to each other, they handle that. I'm glad it happened because it should have happened, it's the right thing to do, everyone has a good giggle about it and we move on."
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Maurice said Little has had a unique challenge. The 31-year-old became a top-line center shortly after breaking into the NHL with the Atlanta Thrashers in 2007-08 and played mostly with veteran wings at first. But in the past few seasons, Scheifele has become the Jets' top center, and Little has played more with younger forwards like 21-year-old Laine and 23-year-old Ehlers.
Though some interpreted Laine's comments this week as being directed at Little, Maurice defended the veteran center, who has 516 points (215 goals, 301 assists) in 836 NHL games.
"I see it on the ice, the nights he's got to be first on the forecheck and first on the backcheck and that's pretty much what he does all night, just up and down," Maurice said. "The other kids are gifted, they do a lot of really good things and they score goals and we cheer them, and then Bryan just comes back to the bench and puts his lungs back in his body and goes back and does it again. This guy's a great pro and he's a good player."
Maurice said those who say the Jets need to upgrade at second-line center "have absolutely no idea what you're talking about or you don't own a TV.
"Bryan Little is a far better player than people give him credit for. What I appreciate is you want your players to teach you things too, so there's a guy that's teaching all of us how to be a great pro, how to be a good teammate, quietly."