Cam Tucker

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Patrik Laine gives an interview after being selected second by the Winnepeg Jets during round one of the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Looking to make the leap: Patrik Laine

1 Comment

This is part of Jets Day at PHT…

The Winnipeg Jets missed the playoffs by nine points last season, resulting in the second overall pick in the NHL Draft.

With the pick, the Jets took Patrik Laine, the six-foot-four-inch, 206-pound prospect forward just oozing with goal-scoring talent that made him a lock as a top-three selection in the months leading up to the draft. Another Finnish Flash in Winnipeg, perhaps?

The Toronto Maple Leafs retained the first overall pick in the lottery and eventually took Auston Matthews at No. 1. But behind the Leafs, the Jets also had a huge day for their franchise. They had the sixth best odds at grabbing the No. 1 overall selection, and moved all the way up into the No. 2 spot, eventually landing Laine, a player that has been compared to NHL sniper Alex Ovechkin.

When there are comparisons to Ovechkin, who has hit the 50-goal plateau seven times in his NHL career, the pressure is on.

(The expectation he could be like Ovechkin is one Laine has, himself, put out there. He doesn’t lack confidence.)

The Jets have some very promising prospects in their organization, or already playing for the big club, and the selection of Laine and signing him to his entry-level deal only adds more talent to the pool in Winnipeg.

After the 2015-16 season Laine had, winning gold at the world juniors for Finland and being named MVP for the Finnish league playoffs, the next logical jump would be to the NHL. And it appears the Jets are going to give him the opportunity right away to earn his spot.

“We’re going to put him on the ice, we’re going to put him with good players and we’re going to give him an opportunity. And then he’s going to grow and we’re going to enjoy watching him,” said head coach Paul Maurice in July.

“This is a special player. Winnipeg should be excited.”

Laine is coming off what the Jets called “minor” knee surgery following the NHL scouting combine and was kept off the ice during the team’s development camp last month. Laine started experiencing discomfort in his knee during the VO2 max bike test at the combine and was then restricted to just upper-body tests for the remainder of the event.

However, it appears he will be ready to play in the upcoming World Cup, as he will once again represent Team Finland, beginning Sept. 17.

“I’m not going to skate for a while. Just before the World Cup,” said Laine, as per the Winnipeg Sun. “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.”

It’s L.A. Kings day at PHT

Los Angeles Kings v Calgary Flames
Getty Images

After getting ousted in the first round of the playoffs by their California rivals in San Jose, the L.A. Kings have embarked on an off-season of change, and some controversy, too.

The Kings finished second in the Pacific Division, which was dominated by the California teams, with 102 points. But they ran into a Sharks team that put the historic seven-game series collapse of two years ago behind it and eventually powered its way to the Stanley Cup Final.

This year, the Kings were eliminated in five games.

Following their playoff defeat, the Kings and head coach Darryl Sutter agreed to a three-year contract extension. They brought back defenseman Brayden McNabb on a two-year contract extension and Trevor Lewis for four more years. When the free agent market opened up last month, L.A. added defenseman Tom Gilbert and forward Teddy Purcell.

Purcell joined the Kings after forwards Milan Lucic, Kris Versteeg and Vincent Lecavalier all left, with Lucic signing in Edmonton for seven years and a total of $42 million.

But the club’s relationship with former captain Dustin Brown sure hit a rough patch.

The Kings stripped Brown of his captaincy and later gave the ‘C’ to Anze Kopitar. Remember, Brown has six years remaining on an eight-year deal with an annual cap hit of $5.875 million, while his offensive production (11 goals and 28 points in 82 games last season) has dipped significantly since the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign.

“We had pretty candid conversations. From my perspective, I think they’ve tried to trade me and have been unable to come to a deal – whether that was last week, three months ago, five months ago, or a year ago, I couldn’t tell you,” said Brown, as he opened up about having the captaincy taken from him.

“My job is to be a better hockey player for my teammates,” Brown continued. “And, as a result, help this team win. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but it’s a business and I understand all of that. I think it’s my job just to come in ready to go in September.”

Bettman: Discussions about NHL participation at 2018 Olympics ‘not on the front-burner’

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks with the media during a press conference prior to Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks at Consol Energy Center on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Getty Images

For months now, the prospect of possible NHL player participation at the 2018 Olympics hasn’t been promising.

Take the remarks of commissioner Gary Bettman, as per the LA Times, at the beginning of this year’s Stanley Cup Final for example:

“For us to have to pay to go to the Olympics based on everything that’s attendant to that, putting aside the fact that we get no access to our players, we don’t get to promote the fact that we’re there, and we have to disrupt our season, as I indicated in my remarks, I don’t see the board wanting to pay for the privilege. And by the way it does cost us money now, just to deal with the things we have to deal with beyond the costs they pick up.”

Or, on the same subject, IIHF president Rene Fasel ominously saying it “doesn’t look very good.”

Or Fasel saying the International Olympic Committee won’t pay for transportation or insurance costs for NHL players in 2018.

Bettman, as outlined Wednesday by the Chicago Tribune, shed some light on the upcoming process and how the respective positions of other organizations may impact the league’s decision. But whatever discussions the NHL does get involved in with the IIHF and IOC won’t happen for a while.

From the Chicago Tribune:

On NHL players participating in the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea:

“We probably won’t get to it in terms of serious discussions one way or another with players’ association and the IIHF and the IOC until winter. It’s not on the front-burner right now.”

On the hurdles of coming to an agreement to play in the Olympics:

“There have been a lot of reports about positions that either the IOC or the IIHF have or will take and that’s something we’ll have to analyze at the time we have to make the appropriate decision.”

NHL players have been participating in the Winter Olympics since 1998 in Nagano, Japan.

Report: Lightning sign James Wisniewski to PTO

Phil Kessel, James Wisniewski
AP Photo

After having his 2015-16 season reduced to just 47 seconds of ice time, defenseman James Wisniewski has signed a professional tryout (PTO) with the Tampa Bay Lightning, according to James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail.

Wisniewski, 32, had one more year left on his six-year contract with an annual cap hit of $5.5 million, but the Hurricanes bought out the remainder of his deal the day before free agency opened.

He suffered a torn ACL just 47 seconds into his debut with the Hurricanes at the beginning of last season, and didn’t play another shift in 2015-16.

The Hurricanes initially acquired the veteran blue liner from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for goalie Anton Khudobin in June of 2015.

‘He knows all about pressure’: Retired NHLer Ray Whitney to caddie for Graham DeLaet at Rio Olympics

NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 09: Ray Whitney #13 of the Dallas Stars skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on January 9, 2014 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Stars 1-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Former NHL forward Ray Whitney has made it to the Rio Olympics. As a caddie for Canadian golfer and ardent Calgary Flames fan Graham DeLaet.

The opening round of the men’s golf competition begins Thursday, with DeLaet teeing off at 7:30 a.m. local time in Rio with Adilson da Silva of Brazil and Byeong Hun An of South Korea.

NHL players, past or present, caddying for pro golfers has been done before, including James Wisniewski on the bag for his friend and world No. 1-ranked Jason Day.

DeLaet doesn’t seem hesitant about relying on Whitney to relay some of his experience in high-pressure situations.

“He’s one of the most competitive people I know. He’s a Stanley Cup champion (in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes) and he knows all about pressure,” said DeLaet, as per TSN.

“I will lean on him a little bit more for support than advice maybe a lot of times, but he knows my game well enough and he knows when to kind of give me a little shove and say, ‘Let’s get going,’ and when to maybe let me blow off some steam.”

DeLaet has been a Flames fan for years, dating back to the days of Theo Fleury.

“I grew up in Moose Jaw when (Theo) Fleury was playing there for the Warriors,” DeLaet told the Calgary Herald last year. “He got drafted (by the Flames in 1987), won a Cup there in his rookie year, so I was pretty much hooked. I was seven years old in ’89.

“I was pretty much locked in from there on.”

Prior to Rio, the last time golf was part of the Olympics was in 1904.

At the age of 42, Whitney officially retired from pro hockey in January of 2015. He scored 385 goals and 1,064 points in 1,330 career NHL games.