Winnipeg Jets rookie right wing Patrik Laine might have been on to something when he made the bold assertion that he should be considered for the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft last June.
In a season when many young and extremely talented rookies are making their mark in the NHL, the 18-year-old Laine could turn out to be the best of the bunch.
Laine, the No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft, was tied for second in the NHL in goals (12) and led all rookies in points (18) and power-play goals (five) at the quarter mark this season. He was first in average ice time (18:27) among rookie forwards and ranked second among rookies with 59 shots on goal and a 20.3 shooting percentage.
Video: DAL@WPG: Laine scores on snap shot to notch hat trick
"You appreciate a talent level that's just different than most with his hand skills, the shot," Jets coach Paul Maurice said. "He can pass the puck and find holes; he's just at a different level than most NHL guys [his age]."
A panel of 13 writers for NHL.com were solicited to vote for their Calder Trophy leader at this point of the season, and the consensus was that Laine will be the first Finland-born player since Teemu Selanne in 1993 to be named the top rookie in the NHL. Laine received 64 points and 12 first-place votes. Defenseman Zach Werenski of the Columbus Blue Jackets was second with 48 points and one first-place vote, and forward Mitchell Marner of the Toronto Maple Leafs was third with 35 points. Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft, was fourth with 24 points.
"Laine is still a young man and he'll need to do a couple tours of the NHL before he understands what he can and cannot do," Maurice said. "Like which defensemen, he can try to go against 1-on-1, and those you can't. Those guys you can flush out behind the net, and the guys you'll never catch. So experience is the key, unlike any other 18-year-old player."
Video: TOR@WPG: Laine erupts for first NHL hat trick
Voting totals (points awarded on 5-4-3-2-1 basis): Patrik Laine, Jets, 64 points; Zach Werenski, Blue Jackets, 48; Mitchell Marner, Maple Leafs, 35; Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs, 24; Jimmy Vesey, Rangers, 9; Matt Murray, Penguins, 5; William Nylander, Maple Leafs, 5; Brady Skjei, Rangers, 3; Brandon Carlo, Bruins, 2.