Perhaps no player was as polarizing for the Blue Jackets this season as star forward Patrik Laine. In a year when his overall production was down, it could be argued that Laine had the best, most mature season of his young NHL career.
Coming off of a season in which Laine was a point-per-game player for the Jackets, the injury-riddled 2021-22 campaign left us wanting so much more from the restricted free agent. Once Johnny Gaudreau signed with the Jackets, Laine was quick to voice his excitement in having a new superstar linemate in Central Ohio, inking a 4-year contract with an $8.7m AAV.
His season got off to a hot start, scoring the team’s first (and only) goal in their opener in Raleigh. But unfortunately, Patrik suffered a hyperextended elbow later in that same period, which would put him on the shelf for nearly two weeks. Worse, this signified a troubling trend for his season, where he actually played pretty well, but was held out of the lineup on various occasions, due to various injuries.
In the end, he was limited to just 55 games – comically, one less than he played last season – scoring 22 goals and 52 points. But even with the slightly lower production, I thought we saw the best version of Patrik Laine that we have seen since he was acquired from the Winnipeg Jets just over two years ago.
He was much more noticeable away from the puck, using his legs to change his position more, and working harder on the defensive side of things. He still needs some polish, but overall I thought his game looked really solid, with him not trying to do quite as much with the puck and taking the easier plays more. He still needs to tone down the turnovers, but ultimately, these steps gave us a glimpse of a better all-around player.
When Laine volunteered to play center later in the season, we all had pause, and rightfully so. He’s a player who has heavily relied on time and space to fire his patented one-timer and be productive. But surprisingly, as a center, I thought he was really good. He looked more engaged, and when he did carry the puck, I thought he did a nice job distributing and then moving to find open space. Oddly, even though it wasn’t perfect, he looked like a very capable scoring center. Did not see that coming.
Final season stats: 55 games played, 22 goals, 30 assists, 52 points, 16 PIMS, -12, 184 shots on goal. Overall grade: B
Sure, there’s still a lot for young Patty to work on in his game. But, for maybe the first time in his career, I don’t think it’s fair to question his passion for the game or his work ethic. He definitely passed the eye test and looked the part this year for this team, even if we didn’t see a big statistical jump. His calm, relaxed demeanor does not tell the full story here: this is a competitive hockey player who has the drive to help this team succeed. Like Gaudreau, now they need to add quality pieces around him.