At just 23 years old, Laine has become something of a puzzle in the NHL. Extremely talented, he scored 110 goals in his first three seasons, establishing himself as one of the next great snipers in the league. Some have compared him to players like Alex Ovechkine or Steven Stamkos due to his ability to hammer receiving shots with precision into the net on the power play, giving the Winnipeg Jets a seemingly unstoppable weapon.
But then things started to deteriorate, to the point where Laine was traded early in the season to the Columbus Blue Jackets. He was quickly put into the doghouse after an altercation with an assistant coach (who turned out to be Brad Larsen, who is now the team’s head coach) and finished with just ten goals and 21 points in 45 games for Columbus. There is no doubt about his offensive abilities, but his commitment to the defensive side of the game and his sometimes questionable commitment have raised questions about his future.
Auston Matthews, who was immediately compared to him because they secured the top two spots in the 2016 Draft, signed a huge long-term contract as part of his entry-level deal that made him one of the highest paid players in the NHL. Laine was given a two-year bridge and traded in the middle of it. Instead of negotiating a long-term deal, he will now return to Columbus with only a one-year contract, although he will reward it generously. Next year he will be an RFA again and need the same qualifying offer, but maybe things will have changed.
With a new head coach in Columbus and a fresh start without a trade or quarantine, Laine could very well regain dominance of the league with that nasty shot. But now just two years away from free agency, it’s unclear how long he will stay with the Blue Jackets.
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