The New Jersey Devils have been very patient with Finnish forward prospect Teemu Laine, and their patience may finally be starting to pay some dividends. The Devils had to be concerned with his lack of offense since drafting him in the second round of the 2000 NHL draft, 39th overall. With a torrid start to the 2004-05 season though, those concerns are starting to disappear.
After struggling to get quality ice time with Jokerit, a team that he had spent practically his entire career with, the 22-year-old decided to change teams over the summer. Laine’s first three SM-Liiga seasons with Jokerit were spent shuffling in and out of the line-up. However, he had taken a regular shift with Jokerit the last couple seasons, but his ice time was limited because Jokerit iced such a deep and talented team. Laine spent most of his time toiling on the third and fourth lines, and struggled to put the puck in the net.
The Devils did not draft Laine to be a sniper, but they no doubt had to be concerned at his confidence offensively. Laine is very strong defensively and has elite level speed, having been a speed skater before getting involved in hockey. His exceptional defense alone should aid him in his quest for an NHL career, especially in New Jersey. But he always seemed to be leaving the Devils wanting more. And with his new SM-Liiga team Tappara, he has been off to an excellent start when it comes to putting the puck in the net.
He chose to leave Jokerit for Tappara, signing a three-year deal for less money than he could have got with Jokerit, in hopes of getting a larger and hopefully more offensive role. It was reported that Laine had a similar offer on the table one year ago, but decided to pass on it. He appears to have taken advantage of his new surroundings early on in the 2004-05 SM-Liiga season. Laine’s previous career high for goals and points was 7 goals (2002-03) and 13 points (2003-04). So far, after only 16 league games, Laine is on pace to shatter his previous career highs. Laine already has 6 goals and 9 points, showing new found confidence in his offensive game and giving the Devils hope that he might be able to do more than just be a checking/grinding type at the NHL level.
Laine is finally getting that quality ice time with Tappara that he was failing to receive with Jokerit. Playing on a line with Marko Ojanen and Stefan Ohman, Laine’s confidence level is soaring, and the line has been one of Tappara’s best and most consitent lines in the early part of the season. Not shooting enough had always been one of Laine’s drawbacks, but it appears that he is firing the puck with more authority and confidence.
Although it is still early in the hockey season, the Devils have to be ecstatic about the way Laine has started the season. His development had appeared to hit a bump in the road, and there was concern that should he reach the NHL, he would be no more than a third or fourth line grinder. Laine however has found new life with Tappara. The defensive part of his game had never been of much concern, and now the offensive side of his game has new life, though he still lacks elite playmaking skills. He is unlikely to keep up such a scorching scoring pace, but it seems that all Laine needed to get his offense going was a change of scenery.
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