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Patrik Laine thriving during rookie season with Jets

Leads first-year players in goals, points, says Winnipeg will be 'very good team in a couple of years'

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / Director of Editorial

NEW YORK -- Eight months of training and 82 regular-season games are a challenge for the most experienced NHL players. It can be overwhelming for somebody new to the grind. So it's not surprising when Winnipeg Jets rookie forward Patrik Laine says his consistency is one of his biggest accomplishments this season.

"I just want to play well every night. I don't care if I am scoring or not," Laine said Wednesday during a visit to the NHL office on an off day for the Jets. "Of course, it is always nice to score, but I just want to play well. I know that I can still play well, even when I am not scoring."

Laine hasn't gone more than six games without a goal and has one other stretch of five.

"There have been some hard times this season, but not [many]," Laine said. "There's been a couple of games where I haven't played well, but I think I have consistently played well and it has been a bit of a surprise for me."

Video: WPG@NSH: Laine rings a wicked wrister in off the post

Laine, 18, arrived in the NHL shouldering high expectations. Selected No. 2 in the 2016 NHL Draft in June behind Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Laine was expected to deliver immediately for the Jets.

He has done that. His 33 goals in 62 games lead rookies, two ahead of Matthews. His 60 points are also first, five better than Matthews. Laine's numbers also stand up against veteran competition.

Only Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (35 goals), who has been in the League for 12 seasons, and Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand (36), who has been in the League eight, have more goals than Laine. Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, in his 11th season, and Montreal Canadiens center Max Pacioretty, in his ninth, have 33 goals each. There are 17 players in the NHL who have scored more points than Laine, and that group has an average age of 26.5 years.

Despite his accomplishments, Laine said he understands this is his first year in the NHL and he has much to learn. The elite company he is keeping on the scoring list has not allowed him to forget his place.

"I do feel like a rookie," Laine said. "It won't change even though I have a couple of goals and points, I'm still going to be a rookie this season and I still need to do some rookie stuff; so it won't change. I always have to do the things that rookies need to do, but not for long anymore. That's good."

Video: COL@WPG: Laine cranks home a slap shot

The Jets have 12 games remaining, including Thursday against the New York Islanders at Barclays Center (7 p.m. ET; MSG+ 2, TSN3, NHL.TV), and are 10 points behind the St. Louis Blues for the second wild card from the Western Conference into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They also would have to pass the Los Angeles Kings, who are six points in front of them.

Laine knows the Jets may not be able to make up the ground, although he said he believes they will give it their all in the final three weeks of the season. The disappointment at the thought of missing the playoffs is slightly tempered by a realization that the future looks very good for the Jets.

Of their top 10 scorers this season, six are younger than 25. None are older than defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, who is 31. Their captain, Blake Wheeler, is 30. Their No. 1 goalie, Connor Hellebuyck, is 23.

"I think if this year is not our year, I think we are going to be a very good team in a couple of years," Laine said. "We have so many young guys and so much talent it seems. I think if it is not next year, I think after that, we are going to make it to the playoffs for many years. Our veteran guys are not that old, so they are going to be around for a long time."

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