It has only been a couple of weeks, but the Patrik Laine experience in Columbus is already living up to all of the hype that could have possibly preceded it.
When the Blue Jackets acquired Laine (and Jack Roslovic) from the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for disgruntled center Pierre-Luc Dubois there should have been a lot of reasons for optimism in Columbus. There were (and still are) some very real long-term concerns when it comes to whether or not he will actually stay in Columbus, but it was still a moment where a team desperate for star power, excitement, and offense acquired one of the most electrifying goal scorers in the league. A goal scorer that is still only 22 years old and should theoretically still have his best days of hockey in front of him.
It is not very often that you get an opportunity to acquire that kind of talent. And in the two-decade history of the Blue Jackets organization you could probably count on one hand (while still having several fingers left over) the number of players that had the potential to bring that sort of superstar excitement to the team.
There was Rick Nash. Artemi Panarin. And, well, that’s pretty much it. That is not to say they haven’t had good players (or that they do not have other good players now — because they have and do), it is just that they haven’t really been blessed with many players that get their names in bright lights across the league.
Laine has that marquee ability.
In his first six games with the team the Blue Jackets have already seen everything that could possibly come from his presence on the roster.
Production. Passion. Even a benching.
First, you have the elite finishing ability that few players in the league can match. The Blue Jackets have been a very good team in recent years, making the playoffs in each of the past four seasons. They are competitive. They will give you everything you can handle. But it is a team where the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. Outside of those two years from Panarin and the occasional big season from Cam Atkinson there hasn’t been a pure first-line finisher on this roster. Laine has already demonstrated that ability with four goals in his first six games, including this snipe of shot over the weekend.
There are not many players in the league that can get off that type of shot to cleanly beat an NHL goalie from that far out off the rush. Laine is one of them.
That sort of talent is a big reason why he is going to score 30-plus goals for you even in a “down” year.
There has also been passion, which we saw unfold later in that same game when he found himself in his first ever NHL fight. It is not something you necessarily want to see (you do not want him risking injury, or taking himself off the ice for five minutes) but it definitely brought some unexpected chaos to the lineup.
What stood out about that fight so much is it came in the same week that he found himself getting his first extended trip to the bench under John Tortorella. The Laine-Tortorella relationship was always going to be one of the big question marks with this trade, and the fact it only took four games for an extended benching to occur (due to a reported verbal dispute with an assistant coach) was simply perfect.
It has already been a wild ride, and he has only played six games!
Do not sleep on the Roslovic addition
It is not just Laine’s contributions that have been significant for Columbus.
Roslovic was the other aspect of that trade and he was not just some throw-in addition. He is a good player that has flashed a lot of potential early in his career, and he has been great so far for the Blue Jackets. It could not have come at a better time, either.
With Dubois going the other way in the trade and Mikko Koivu unexpectedly retiring, the Blue Jackets definitely need more production from the middle of the lineup. He is giving them all of that and more.
He enters Monday night with nine points in his first nine games, has been driving possession at a rate that far exceeds most of his new teammates, and has already scored a game-winning goal in spectacular fashion.
Do not expect him to be a point-per-game player forever, but if he can build on what he showed in Winnipeg a year ago and be a 15-20 goal center that can drive play, that is a heckuva pickup to replenish some of that center depth they lost down the middle of the lineup.
When word first started to surface in the offseason that Dubois was looking for a change of scenery it was concerning because of the issues the team has had retaining talent over the years, especially young RFA talent. Were they going to be able to get a return that made them better?
In the short-term, it would be impossible to argue that they didn’t get better. The ability to retain Laine as a cornerstone piece is still going to be the determining factor on what makes or breaks this trade. But in the short-term Columbus is getting everything it could have possibly hoped for from it.