As one of several prominent NHL restricted free agents still without a new deal, the sniper is currently entering the late stages of summer training under a cloud of uncertainty. Speaking before the Finnish Alumni All-Star Game about an hour north of Helsinki, Laine told Sportsnet that he’s confident he’ll be playing "somewhere" next season.
He just doesn’t know if that somewhere will be Winnipeg.
"Well you never know. It’s still business, you’ve got to be prepared for anything," Laine said Friday. "But yeah, you never know where you’re going to play next year so I’m just prepared for anything."
The response was open-ended enough that it begged an obvious follow-up: Does he still want to play for the Jets?
"Well I’ve got nothing bad to say about Winnipeg, you know? It’s been good so far. But you never know, so that’s kind of my comments."
The Jets have felt the salary cap squeeze more than most this summer. They also have RFA forward Kyle Connor still unsigned — he and Laine combined for 64 goals last year — and already waved goodbye to defencemen Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot, plus winger Brandon Tanev.
Laine is coming off a season that featured more peaks and valleys than his first two in Winnipeg, but still boasts impressive credentials. The second overall pick from 2016 has scored more goals (110) since entering the NHL than all but five players: Alex Ovechkin (133), Nikita Kucherov (120), Connor McDavid (112), John Tavares (112) and Auston Matthews (111).
He also compiled those numbers before celebrating his 21st birthday.
Laine’s 30-goal season came after he hit 44 and 36 as a sophomore and rookie, but he believes it included strides in other facets of his play.
"I learned when I’m scoring I’m scoring a lot and when it’s not going well, I’ve just got to stay with it," said Laine. "Still, even though you’re not scoring, there’s so many things you can do well for your team and I think that’s the most important thing."
The six-foot-four winger has devoted extra effort towards making improvements with his skating during off-season workouts. He noted that there’s been more time in the gym after Winnipeg made a first-round exit against St. Louis in the spring.
"I’ve been kind of working on everything, especially explosiveness and being quicker on the ice," said Laine. "I think I’ve made some really good progress during the summer and I think I’ve been skating a lot more this year than I’ve been in the past.
"So that’s kind of been new to me and hopefully that works next year."
Laine works out in Turku during the summer as part of a group that includes Colorado Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen, another high-end RFA still without a contract. The two have compared notes about their respective situations throughout the last couple months.
However, with the opening of training camps now less than four weeks away, Laine is clearly wondering when the dialogue will pick up between his camp and Jets management. He says he’ll remain in Europe until he has a new contract.
"I’m not stressed. I’m not worrying about that at all," said Laine. "I know that I’ve done my job as well as I can over these three years, so I know I’m going to play somewhere next year. So that’s something I’m not thinking about too much.
"Hopefully we get it done in the next couple months and be ready when the puck drops."