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Heritage Classic

Patrik Laine center of attention at Heritage Classic

Jets rookie coming off hat trick, ready for spotlight in outdoor game against Oilers

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

WINNIPEG -- More eyes than ever will be on rookie Patrik Laine when his Winnipeg Jets play the Edmonton Oilers in the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic at Investors Group Field on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports2, NHL.TV).

And that's OK with the 18-year-old from Tampere, Finland, who had a hat trick at home against the Toronto Maple Leafs in a 5-4 overtime win Wednesday.

"Yeah, it was great to score the hat trick," Laine said after an outdoor practice on Saturday. "And I'm happy people are happy that I scored and we got to win. It's nice to get new fans and new people who are watching and I'm trying to keep going and trying to play well."

Laine, who has four goals in four games, was the fifth 18-year-old in the NHL's past 27 seasons to score three goals in a game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The others were Jaromir Jagr, Jordan Staal, Nikita Filatov and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Former Jets captain Dale Hawerchuk had two hat tricks at 18 in the 1981-82 season.

After those three goals Wednesday, including one in overtime, attention on Laine, the No. 2 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, is increasing.

"I hope he takes it all in," Jets coach Paul Maurice said. "This is something that this young man, to get to where he is, has dealt with a version of it. He didn't sneak into the two hole (at the draft) and it's going to be part of his life, his career, that scrutiny.

"That is also sometimes where I am an awe of the great players of our game, how they're able to be that consistent. You guys know every time Tampa [Bay] comes in or Pittsburgh, you say, 'How are you going to stop Sidney Crosby?' And here comes the list. My answer always is, 'We're not.' 

"If anybody could, they'd have figured it out already and they wouldn't win the Hart Trophy. That's how good these guys are, but they also have to learn in the first few years, they're not quite as dynamic, unless they're Teemu [Selanne], and it takes them a while to learn that level of consistency."

Maurice said the Jets monitor Laine closely, but they try not to smother him.

Video: NHL Now: Breaking down Laine's three-goal performance

"We talk to him but we're more interested in making sure he's part of the team and one of the team and that we're not working with him every day," Maurice said. "We leave him alone and let him experience it and part of it is that's a kid that knows he has to jump in the deep end and he's got to swim. That's part of being the second overall [pick] and it's also part of being as gifted as he is."

Being the center of attention is nothing new for Laine, but playing outdoors will be.

"This is quite exciting and a new experience for me," Laine said. "(Before the Heritage Classic), just having fun in free time with my friends in outdoor rinks. Not real games. And maybe one practice in my whole life outside. So that's quite new for me."

The sun bathed most of the Jets' 45-minute practice at the stadium on Saturday.

"It was quite bright out there so I had to use a dark visor," Laine said. "After I changed it, it was pretty good. It's way different playing outside than inside. Way different. But I think we're going to get used to it.

"It's the same ice for both teams so it's not going to make any difference."

The Jets (2-2-0) have tried to stick to their routines as much as possible during Heritage Classic week in Winnipeg. Events have included the first Jets Hall of Fame inductions, a Hall of Fame luncheon and a Heritage Classic gala dinner.

"We haven't fought it, to be honest with you," Maurice said. "I've talked to a number of coaches that have had outdoor-game experience. You know it's a fantastic experience and your players will enjoy it and you should try to enjoy it. We talk about it not as a theme for this weekend but a theme for how we work, that we want to make sure there's enough time that we enjoy our lives in the game."

Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien said he and his teammates are embracing the opportunity to be part of Heritage Classic week.

"There's just so much going on," Byfuglien said. "Your family gets involved and the NHL has done a great job putting everything together. It's an opportunity you don't get every day, to come to a beautiful stadium like this and play an outdoor game."

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