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Jets' Patrik Laine already feeling at home

Winnipeg opens arms to No. 2 pick in 2016 NHL Draft

by Patrick Williams / Correspondent

WINNIPEG -- Winnipeg Jets right wing Patrik Laine spent his first week in the city after being the No. 2 pick at the 2016 NHL Draft last month.

A minor knee injury prevented the 6-foot-3, 201-pound 18-year-old from participating in Jets development camp. However, before departing for Finland for the summer, Laine competed in a golf tournament, spent time at the team's practice facility and met with Jets fans who packed the MTS Iceplex for the first day of the camp.

"There were [a lot] of people waiting there, asking for autographs and photos," Laine said. "It was quite amazing to see how many people have come here. It's been good here.

"It's been a good week. Some golf with [Jets center Mark Scheifele] and some workouts. Some nice weather, and it's a good city. [I toured the city] a little bit, but not too much. I think I'm going to love being here and make this town my new hometown."

Video: Jets draft F Patrik Laine No. 2

Laine's arrival in Winnipeg further intensified the fervor in an already hockey-mad city. Jets fans already had been counting down the days to his expected arrival from the moment Winnipeg finished second in the NHL Draft Lottery on April 30.

Laine and his dangerous shot are expected to give the Jets a high-end goal-scorer who can slide into one of their top two lines immediately. His ability to score against elite competition with Tappara in Liiga (Finland's top professional league) and for Finland at the 2016 IIHF World Championship have led some Jets fans to compare him to Teemu Selanne, who scored 76 goals as a rookie with the original Winnipeg Jets in 1992-93.

Laine capped his time in Winnipeg by signing his entry-level contract with the Jets on July 3. The contract could pay him as much as $2.65 million in bonuses in each of his first three seasons. He plans to give his signing bonus to his parents.

"It's quite awesome to sign my first NHL contract," Laine said. "I've always wanted to do that, and now I've done it. I'm proud of myself. It was great."

Signing his first NHL contract was Laine's first milestone following a dominant 2015-16 season.

Laine helped to push Tappara to the Liiga championship; he had 33 points (17 goals, 16 assists) in 46 regular-season games before scoring 10 goals in 18 playoff games. His performance earned him the Jari Kurri Award as the top player in the Liiga playoffs, and he won the league's rookie of the year award.

Video: Patrik Laine talks to media about being drafted

From there, Laine headed to the World Championship in Russia, earning tournament most valuable player honors and helping Finland win the silver medal. His seven goals and 12 points led all players. He excelled in the World Junior Championship last winter, when he led all players with seven goals and 13 points for Finland, which won the gold medal on home ice.

Laine will play for Team Finland in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey in September.

"[I am looking forward to the World Cup of Hockey] a lot," he said. "Of course. It's my first kind of huge tournament, to be able to play against the best [players] in the world. It's so nice to be there and play with all of the Finnish guys against the world's top players. It's going to be a pretty amazing tournament."

After the World Cup, Laine will return to Winnipeg.

"I'm looking forward to getting things started after the World Cup," he said.

At some point this season he could play alongside Scheifele, who scored an NHL career-high 29 goals last season. Scheifele, 23, was a first-round selection (No. 7) by the Jets in 2011.

However, after a long season that extended deep into May, Laine has a lot of work to do.

"I don't skate during the summer," he said. "I just do off-ice training, and when the season gets closer, then I go on the ice and practice.

"For now, I'm not going to skate for a while, just before the World Cup. I don't want to hurt myself. I don't need much time to be on the ice. I'm going to work off the ice, work hard, and I think the skating will come after that.

"Maybe when I go home, then I'm going to think about what I've done during these past weeks. That's a hard question. It will get much clearer when I get home."

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