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Laine relieved to focus on hockey with Jets after getting new contract

Forward says he was stressed over being restricted free agent

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

WINNIPEG -- Patrik Laine said his struggles to score last season were a direct result of worrying about his contract, an issue he no longer needs to concern himself with.

"I think last year I was just stressed about [my] contract and all that kind of stuff," the Winnipeg Jets forward said Thursday. "So now I have it in my pocket, so now I can just play hockey and not worry about that."

Laine, who was a restricted free agent, agreed to a two-year, $13.5 million contract Sept. 27 after he missed all of training camp. This after a season when he scored 30 goals, 14 less than his total in 2017-18 and six less than his rookie season of 2016-17.

Laine, who has six points (one goal, five assists) heading into the game against the Minnesota Wild at Bell MTS Place on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; TSN3, FS-N, FS-WI, NHL.TV), said he didn't feel like he put a full effort into last season.

"I'm still learning every year, every day, something new," he said. "Maybe last year I thought I was working hard and now I feel like maybe (it) wasn't as hard as I thought.

Video: WPG@NYI: Laine goes bar down for first of the season

"I'm still 21, hopefully going to have a lot of games in this league, a lot of time to learn but still the quicker the better. I try to learn from all the pros in this room, especially from my linemates. That's something I've still got to work on."

Laine, selected No. 2 by the Jets in the 2016 NHL Draft, struggled after the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Game with 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in the final 34 games of the regular season. He had four points (three goals, one assist) in Winnipeg's six-game loss to the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Laine, who appeared to complain in the offseason about not playing on the top line with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, was moved there midway through a 4-1 loss to the New York Islanders on Oct. 6. He scored at 17:06 of second period and followed it up with three assists in a 4-1 win at the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday.

Laine has had spells with Scheifele and Wheeler in the past but said he now has a better understanding of what it takes to succeed with them.

Video: WPG@NJD: Schneider snares Laine's slap shot

"Maybe it wasn't clicking before because I think this year, I've just been working my (tail) off every single shift," Laine said. "I think that's probably been the one thing. They're always working together. It's not them. It's been me before that hasn't been working, and now I feel like I'm always working hard every shift, so I think that's been the key for me and that line's success.

"Now I've seen it in these first four games, when you work hard every shift with those type of guys, you'll get points somehow. So I think the key has been just work hard every shift, every day, try to get better. That's something that's helped me so far."

The contract pressure that Laine said he felt near the end of his three-year, entry-level contract is real, especially with players entering the NHL at a younger age, coach Paul Maurice said.

"I think you're seeing something new to the NHL," Maurice said. "We have guys coming out of entry-level contracts and hitting these numbers. That's a pressure they used to feel three, four years down the road. Now they're 21.

"And it's completely understandable. It's an important, important year and when you're that young there's a lot of pressure and he's a goal scorer. And when it's not going, it's a challenge for him."

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