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Which Version of Patrik Laine Will We See This Season?

The talent is there. The shot is present. But consistency hasn't always been in Patrik Laine's wheelhouse. He's looking good now, and the Blue Jackets will need it to continue as the Finnish winger aims for a big second season in Columbus.
Patrik Laine

There are typically two things you can count on when talking about Patrik Laine: he'll score a ton of goals, and he'll frustrate you with his inconsistency. 

Laine had at least 28 goals in his first four NHL seasons, highlighted by 44 in 2017-18. Last year was the only season he didn't - granted, he only played 45 games. But with 12 goals, he was on pace for his lowest offensive total in a full season. It was a down year to say the least, with Laine struggling to find his footing in his first season with the Columbus Blue Jackets after an early season trade from Winnipeg. 

Well, with four points in three games, Laine is off to a good start again. That's not unusual for Laine: in 2017-18, he had six points in his first six games before going on a four-game drought. As a rookie, it only took him four games to record a hat-trick. Last season, he had three points in his lone outing with Winnipeg before scoring 10 points in his first 10 games in Columbus. After that? Eight points in his next 28 games.

So, are we getting another strong start for the Finnish forward, only to see a quick decline in the weeks to come? Laine's points have come against Seattle, Arizona and Detroit this year – three teams that most expect to not be a threat this season.

From leaving a Jets team with some talented offensive weapons to going to a Blue Jackets team that, well, doesn't exactly come close, it's understandable if we don't see the best version of Laine on a nightly basis. 

But from watching his play, he almost looks refreshed. After years of facing doubters, he looks happy to play hockey again. Laine holds a team-leading 53.42 expected-goals-for percentage at 5-on-5 and is a top-20 winger league-wide with 1.39-points-per-60. Of course, we're talking a minuscule sample size - comparing Laine to other forwards with at least 40 minutes of even-strength ice time after a week of NHL hockey - but, the point is, he's been good enough so far.

But with small sample sizes comes increased over-reactions. Is Laine going to be Columbus' best forward as people hope, and expect? Or is this still the inconsistent winger that tantalizing at worst and electric at best?

The skill has always been there with Laine. Considered one of the better pure goal-scorers in the NHL, Laine can dominate a shift when he's at his best. That hasn't been often enough, and that's why, despite some impressive numbers at a young age, he has struggled to secure anything more than one-year deals since completing his entry-level contract a few years back. Laine is once again a pending RFA - a big reformed season should take him a long way. 

The Blue Jackets need to get Laine some desperate help. They don't have a proper No. 1 center and Jakub Voracek is only going to move the needle so much on the opposite wing. Laine needs quality players passing to him to make the most of his skillset. So far, his passing game seems to be a positive, you can still count on him to do some damage on the man advantage. Laine just needs to shoot a bit more: at 5-on-5, he has just three shots in three games. Once he gets that moving again, the sniper should be in good shape.

If Laine falls down a hole again and can't regain what made him a top prospect at one point, some might question Laine's true abilities moving forward. He's still young, and being a pending RFA could help spice things up again. Is he in the right situation to thrive? Not exactly, but with low expectations come great opportunities, and Laine has the chance to show he can still be a star in the game with a strong season.

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