To anyone who’s been paying attention to hockey over the last year or so, it’s no surprise that the NHL rookie scoring race has been getting so much attention. There was already plenty of talk about the upcoming NHL Entry Draft this time last year, with the World Junior Hockey Championships over, and Patrik Laine having helped lead his Finnish national team to a gold medal. While Laine had a solid tournament and outscored American Auston Matthews (as well as out-finishing him, with the USA taking the bronze medal), Matthews was still projected to go first in the draft, despite Laine’s predictions:
We all know what happened come draft lottery time, though. The Toronto Maple Leafs FINALLY made tanking worthwhile and were rewarded with the first overall draft pick in this year’s draft, while the Winnipeg Jets wound up with the 2nd overall pick. The Leafs chose Matthews, and the Jets chose Laine. Since then, Jets fans have not wasted any chance whatsoever to remind Leafs fans that they think Laine is the better player:
Mind you, that was just a few short weeks into the season. The sample size by then was pretty small, but Laine was indeed outperforming Matthews in the scoring race.
Fast forward to New Years Day. The Leafs were hosting the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Centennial Classic, and with two goals in the game (including the beautiful overtime winner)…
… Matthews overtook Laine for the lead in the rookie scoring race – both goals AND points! You can read more about that game in my blog from last week. Now in the week since then, despite some incredible moves from Matthews…
… Laine has retaken the lead in rookie scoring. Both have 21 goals on the season, but Laine has a couple more assists to give him the edge.
However, after yesterday afternoon’s game Jets game against the Buffalo Sabres, fans now find themselves just hoping he’ll be able to return to the ice before too long.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 7, 2017
I can’t help but wonder if Laine’s confidence took a hit after the ultimate “Welcome to the big league, kid” moment:
But I can definitely tell you what absolutely DID take a hit in the immediate aftermath: Jake McCabe, the Sabre responsible for throwing the hit. Watching replay after replay of it, it looks like a fairly clean hit. If anything, the “suicide pass” might be to blame. I’m not a pro hockey player, and obviously the game moves super fast, so Mark Scheifele may not have realized he set Laine up for disaster with that pass, but this whole thing played out like a vintage Scott Stevens career-ender.
Except back in Scott Stevens’s days, a clean hit wasn’t usually followed up by a big brawl… But the times have changed. And as someone who has never played hockey at any sort of competitive level, I can only imagine how I’d react if I looked over a second after making a pass and saw my team’s rookie superstar not moving on the ice. I don’t like the fight, but I get it. Here’s a somewhat similar play from earlier in the season (which results in one of the players being shaken up) where a fight doesn’t ensue:
I wouldn’t try that around Shea Weber, though. Anyway, the after-hit scrap happened, and Jake McCabe looked a little worse for wear after the game:
Although that gash was likely caused by his visor being pushed into his face during the hit, the pile up of people after certainly couldn’t have helped him out.
Unsurprisingly, Jets fans were mortified by the hit. Later on in the afternoon, however, Laine was spotted walking out of the building under his own power.
— Jeff Hamilton (@jeffkhamilton) January 7, 2017
That’s obviously a good sign, but the news today probably wasn’t what most folks wanted to hear.
Maurice: Laine has a concussion. — Winnipeg Jets (@NHLJets) January 8, 2017
— Mitch Rosset (@mitchrosset) January 8, 2017
While some internet pranksters have already decided that Laine’s career is done…
Who already changed Patrik Laine Wikipedia Page?! ☠️ pic.twitter.com/f1lFAobZ68
— Bar South N Celly™ (@BarSouthNCelly) January 8, 2017
… I, for one, sincerely hope that this isn’t the start of another Eric Lindros story. As a fan of the sport, the game is far more exciting with him in it.
That being said, I will agree to one thing. Laine IS better… at getting laid out. All the best in a speedy recovery. In the meantime, let’s watch Auston Matthews climb back to the top of the rookie point standings!