RFA Patrik Laine wants chance to play on Jets’ top line

Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler defends teammate and RFA Patrik Laine, for comments he made about wanting to play on the top line and getting more ice-time.

Still unsigned and currently skating with SC Bern as contract talks with the Winnipeg Jets continue, RFA Patrik Laine indicated on Tuesday that there’s more to his current negotiations than just money and term.

“In contract negotiations, one thing always is who you are playing with,” Laine told Iltalehti writer Pekka Jalonen in Finnish, as translated by Jalonen. “With the merits I have, somewhere else I’d have an opportunity to play with the best players. Everyone who understands hockey should know that.”

Those merits Laine’s referencing have put him in the Jets’ top three in goal-scoring in each of his three years with the club. He led Winnipeg in goals (36) as a rookie in 2016-17 and again as a sophomore (44) in 2017-18. A 30-goal campaign in 2018-19 ranked him third behind Mark Scheifele and fellow RFA Kyle Connor, who excelled while skating alongside Scheifele and Blake Wheeler last season.

“There’s top lines and then there’s our line,” Laine said. “I play whoever I’m told to play with.”

Laine played the majority of his minutes last season on the second line, centred by Bryan Little with Nikolaj Ehlers on the opposite wing while Connor, Scheifele, and Wheeler took top billing. It’s a rare luxury for a team to have enough depth on the wings to have two strong lines and pose matchup problems for opponents’ defences on a near-nightly basis, but might not always put Laine in the best position to score.

When it comes to special teams, Laine has been a mainstay on the first unit power play, and it shows. The 21-year-old has led Winnipeg in power play goals in all three of his NHL seasons.

Jets captain Blake Wheeler, when asked about Laine’s comments on Tuesday, showed his support for the RFA and said he liked that the young winger was “hungry for more.”

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