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Late slump in standout rookie season frustrates Jets star sniper Laine

Busy season catching up to Laine

WINNIPEG — Patrik Laine skated to the bench at Monday’s Winnipeg Jets practice and angrily banged his hockey stick on the boards.

The team’s rookie sniper is in a scoring slump as the Jets, missing the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons, wind down to their final three games.

“Of course it’s frustrating, you just can’t score,” Laine said. “It’s hard right now, to be honest.

“But you just have to work hard to get those chances and hopefully score maybe a couple of points during these last couple games.”

It was only a month ago that the 18-year-old Finnish forward was a front-runner in the NHL rookie-scoring race.

But in his last 11 games dating back to March 8, he has three points off two goals and one assist. In the previous 11 outings, he notched 16 points, including nine goals.

Heading into Monday’s league action, Laine is second in rookie scoring with 34 goals and 62 points in 70 games. He missed eight games with a concussion and one from illness.

He’s surrounded on the stats sheet by players from the Maple Leafs, who take on the Sabres in Buffalo Monday night.

Toronto centre Auston Matthews entered the game atop rookie scoring with 38 goals and 66 points in 77 games. William Nylander is third with 22 goals and 59 points in 76 games and Mitchell Marner has 18 goals and 59 points in 72 outings.

“They’re playing well so it’s good for them,” Laine said. “I’m just focusing on this team and what are we doing here as a team and how can we improve our game still and just how can I be better every night.”

Trying to finish in the Top 3 isn’t on his agenda as the Jets head out for games Tuesday in St. Louis, Thursday in Columbus and Saturday at home against Nashville.

“After the three games and after the season, I’m going to see where we are at and that’s it, that’s the result,” Laine said. “I’m going to be happy anyways.”

Linemate Bryan Little predicted Laine will be considered for the Calder Trophy, awarded annually to the player chosen as the league’s top rookie.

“He’s been pretty consistent all year in terms of scoring and production,” Little said.

“You can tell he’s a bit frustrated and he wants to do well and he wants to help the team. Sometimes, that (slump) happens. It’s almost like the harder you try, the harder it is. It’s not for lack of chances, though.”

In the last 11 games, Laine’s had 33 shots on goal, including two games with six shots and another with seven.

Little and linemate Mathieu Perreault are willing to help the right-winger put up as many points as he can as long as it doesn’t change their whole dynamic.

“I think that’s in the back of our minds,” Little said. “We want to help him and see him do well.”

Perreault said he tries to get the puck to Laine and has been impressed by the six-foot-five youngster.

“I think he had a great season,” Perreault said. “Maybe he’s slowed down a little bit here at the end of the season, but maybe fatigue sets in.”

Laine played in last year’s World Cup, world championship, attended Jets camp and was at the NHL all-star game.

“That’s a real grind,” Perreault said. “I think he’s handled himself well for an 18-year-old.”

Laine has had his mom or dad living with him in Winnipeg and it added to his special year.

“It was a lot of fun and I’m going to have so many great memories about this season,” he said. “Hopefully, I can be better next year and get some more great memories.”

Notes – The Jets called up forwards Kyle Connor and Jack Roslovic on Monday from the AHL Manitoba Moose. They won’t play in St. Louis, coach Paul Maurice said, but could get into a game. It would be the NHL debut for Roslovic, who led the Moose with 45 points in 61 games.

Judy Owen, The Canadian Press

Canadian Press

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