WINNIPEG — Patrik Laine said he is putting aside speculation regarding his future with the Winnipeg Jets and focusing on this season, which he believes could be among the best of his NHL career.
“That’s not something I think about,” the forward said after the Jets held their first official on-ice workout of training camp on Monday. “I only think about what’s going on today. I don’t worry about tomorrow. Right now, I’m here. I’m excited to play. I’m in good shape. I’m going to be a new player this year.
“[I] just want to play well this year. That’s going to be best for both parties. What happens in the future, that’s not even my call. I’m here. I’m playing well, going to work hard every night and that’s all I can do.”
Laine’s agent, Mike Liut, suggested during the offseason a trade might be best for the 22-year-old, who is entering the second season of a two-year, $13.5 million contract ($6.75 million average annual value) he agreed to Sept. 27, 2019. Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff told NHL.com on Oct. 2 that “we’re looking at all our options, including potentially trading different players.”
Laine can become a restricted free agent after this season, which begins on Jan. 14 against the Calgary Flames at Bell MTS Place.
“Well, I’m here aren’t I?” Laine said. “That’s the only thing I’m worried about right now. I’m not in charge of what other people are saying. I don’t worry about that stuff. Even Wayne Gretzky got traded. People get traded all the time. It’s part of the game you need to be aware of.
“Right now, I’m just worried about working hard here, being the best player I can be and helping these other guys be at their best. That’s the only thing I’m worried about right now.”
Laine scored 63 points (28 goals, 35 assists) in 68 games last season, the lowest goal output of his four NHL seasons, but his points-per-game average (.93) was his highest. His average ice time was up by more than two minutes per game, from 17:14 to 19:25, the highest of his NHL career. He sustained a wrist injury in Game 1 of the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers against the Flames on Aug. 1 and missed the remainder of the series, which the Jets lost in four games after finishing ninth in the Western Conference (37-28-6, .563 points percentage).
Laine, the No. 2 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, has scored 138 goals in his four seasons. That is tied for seventh in the League over that four-season span; he trails Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals (181), Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs (158), David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins (155), Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning (153), Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers (147) and Connor McDavid of the Oilers (146).
“I think you see a lot of players, it seems these days, where it gets out there and it may not be directly from the player, but the hint or the insinuation is it might be a time for a change,” Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice said. “And I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about it, to be honest with you.
“I find it’s far more valuable just to watch. So Patrik Laine today, he practiced like a man. He was hard, he was fast, he was as good as I’ve ever seen him practice. So, I’ll judge that. He’s here, he was in a good mood, he was fun to watch and we had a heavy practice. … So, he’s committed to being a great player. That’s almost the only thing I weigh.”
Jets captain Blake Wheeler said the trade speculation has not created a distraction.
“Does losing Patrik Laine make us a better team? Probably not,” Wheeler said. “So, it’s unfortunate that things happen and maybe sometimes you’re in a small Canadian market and there’s nothing else really to talk about other than things of this nature, but Patty makes us a better team. I think that the position that we’re in is one that we can have a really special year.
“We’re not alone in this, and trade rumors and high-profile players and with a flat [NHL] salary cap ($81.5 million), I think these things are just going to continue to happen. I think we’re in a better position today with Patrik Laine on our hockey team and I think we’ll just leave it at that.”
Laine, a right wing, practiced with center Paul Stastny, his linemate when the Jets reached the 2018 Western Conference Final, and left wing Kyle Connor. Stastny was acquired by Winnipeg for a second time, traded from the Vegas Golden Knights on Oct. 9 for defenseman Carl Dahlstrom and a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft.
“I think Paul’s an awesome player,” Laine said. “We had some really good games when he was here, and obviously [he’s] a really good addition to our top six. With him and [Connor] on the other side, I think we can do some real damage and I’m excited to get the season going and see what we can do.
“I think I’m on a good path; just kind of continue from last year. I think I had some really good steps to the right direction as a power forward who can score, who can dish, who can do all those things.”