Alex Ovechkin has long been the goal scoring king of the NHL since his arrival in ‘05/’06. With nine 40+ goal seasons, he has been consistently finding the back of the net for over a decade, and for the most part, consistent in where he does it from. A lot of great goal scorers have an area, or “office” where they love to shoot the puck. Alex, he prefers the high slot to the goalies right. Whether 5-on-5 or on the power play, wide open, or two guys in between him and his next mask wearing victim, he finds a way. The Great 8 is cemented in hockey history, 600+ goals, six Rocket Richard trophies (working on a seventh), and an unyielding amount of attention every time he steps on the ice. So naturally, whenever we see a young kid who can score goals, our focus turns to comparing him to the games greatest scorer. Before now, nothing seems to pan out. That was before. Right now we are watching a 19 year old light up the score sheet in exceptional ways, in similar fashion to how fans have watched Ovi do it for years. Laine has his own office, the décor may be different, but there’s no mistake who he is trying to replicate with his style. The striking resemblance to Ovechkin’s game has been following Laine since his emergence at the world juniors, and World Cup of Hockey, where his Finnish teammates couldn’t find him often enough. He scores, and it’s so damn pretty.
Patrik Laine came into the league in the 2016/17 season as the second overall pick by the Winnipeg Jets. That draft, and the one from the previous year held four players that had mile high expectations, but after #1 pick Auston Matthews netted four goals in his debut, it became McDavid vs. Eichel vs. Matthews, with Laine left as number four of four, and fans began to look at him with a drastically different view point than his three other young counterparts. Then, just as fast, Patrik began scoring, and doing everything in his power to regain the recognition he initially earned prior to the beginning of his career. Before we knew it, Laine was right on track to score 40 goals, alongside Matthews. We know now, after a scary hit, and ensuing concussion, Laine was unable to hit the same milestone as the Maple Leafs rookie sensation. However, that doesn’t mean he didn’t steam things up as far as the Calder race is concerned, but Matthews was given the award, and rightfully so.
This season, everything was business as usual. Eichel, Laine, Matthews, and McDavid (coming off an MVP year) were all destined to be the games best players by the end of the year. Then, a series of events played out that would set up for Laine emergence we couldn’t imagine. Early on in this season, it was obvious McDavid and his Oilers were bad. Like, really fucking bad. Eichel and the Sabres, still bad, but they weren’t exactly playoff contenders in most expert opinions anyway. Matthews was still lights out, and the Leafs are a playoff team, and possible cup contender, and then Matthews went down. He’s been battling injury most of this season, but has still been productive while on the ice, and Toronto is still firmly places in their playoff spot. But there’s one team, one player, who has stayed on track all year. Patrik Laine and the Winnipeg Jets. They’ve been hot all year, and are still pushing for the top spot in the Central division over the Nashville Predators. Laine has been electric, he’s already racked up 43 goals on the year, and is battling with, you guessed it, Alex Ovechkin for the Rocket Richard trophy. Winnipeg is a legitimate title contender, and with no real MVP on the team, with production being spread out among so many talented players, it’s easy to look at them and see a shining star, who can’t stop scoring.
This is all not to say that Ovi is burnt out, and our new scoring champ is now Patrik Laine, far and away the best goal scorer in the league. That’s just not true, not yet anyway. Ovi has proven he still has plenty left in the tank, and is surely going to attempt to catch Gretzky on the all-time goals list. That was made painfully apparent this season, as Ovi was constantly pushing harder and harder to hit the 600 goal milestone. Ironically, the night Ovechkin scored #600, he was playing against his heir apparent. Laine was able to put one away that night, the sane game where is idol, netted two, to hit his mark, and become the 20th player to score 600 career goals. The facts are there, the stats are becoming more and more obvious, Patrik Laine is going be our next great goal scorer. More important, and impressive to be honest, he is the first player, in recent memory, to be a worthy challenger for the throne, here’s hoping he’s deserving.