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Heritage Classic

Wayne Gretzky looks forward to watching Patrik Laine

The Great One touts Jets rookie, who will play in Heritage Classic on Sunday

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / Senior Managing Editor

WINNIPEG -- The hat trick by Winnipeg Jets forward Patrik Laine against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday was not lost on the Edmonton Oilers legends who practiced at MTS Centre on Friday.

Wayne Gretzky, for one, is looking forward to seeing the rookie play in person for the first time at the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic here Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN TVA Sports, NHL.TV).

"The other night when he scored three goals is great for the Jets and wonderful for the city," said Gretzky, who will play in the 2016 Rogers NHL Heritage Classic Alumni Game Saturday (4 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN. TVA Sports, NHL.TV). "He's bringing in excitement and enthusiasm to the organization and the city. People love guys who score goals. If you can score goals, people love you. I played with [Luc] Robitaille, I played with Jari [Kurri], I played with Brett Hull; they loved to score. You've got to love to score. I loved to score, and you can tell that kid loves to score."

Gretzky's former linemate Kurri is a particularly interested observer of Laine's progress as a fellow native of Finland involved with the national hockey federation. Kurri was just as impressed as Gretzky with what Laine, the No. 2 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, did against the Maple Leafs, but took a longer view of what it could mean for his rookie season.

Video: TOR@WPG: Laine erupts for first NHL hat trick

"He can score, there's no secret," Kurri said. "If he gets a chance, he can put it inside the post. But of course the expectations are there, from the media and himself too. So I think that's off of his back now that he got that [hat trick]. He's over that and now he can just go out there and enjoy and play.

"Of course, it's a long season with the schedule and traveling, so we'll see. He's still young. But he needed to have a good start."

With rookies Laine, forward Jesse Puljujarvi of the Edmonton Oilers and forward Sebastian Aho of the Carolina Hurricanes, not to mention center Aleksander Barkov, who is in his fourth season with the Florida Panthers, the future of Finland hockey looks very bright.

"And there are more coming," Kurri said. "Younger ones."

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