After a whirlwind of a week that saw a blizzard hammer the northeast, several teams reporting positive covid tests, and new trade rumors coming out of the wood work, I doubt many people forgot about the first big trade of 2021, which saw Columbus move Pierre-Luc Dubois to Winnipeg for Patrik Laine. The exchange saw two top three picks from the same draft swap teams via trade for the first time since January 23, 1996, exactly 25 years prior to the day, when the top two picks of the 1995 draft swapped places. The Senators received Wade Redden (2nd overall pick) and the Islanders acquired Bryan Berard (1st overall pick.) Anybody making NHL trivia should write that all down.
Columbus had two big debuts on Tuesday, as Patrik Laine hit the ice as a Blue Jacket for the first time in their new Reverse Retro jerseys. Despite the fact that Laine didn’t record a point in the 6-3 loss to the Dallas Stars, this undoubtedly marked the dawn of a new era in Columbus. With all due respect to Pierre-Luc Dubois, a proven NHL top 6 center, Patrik Laine has been long coveted by Jackets GM and fellow Finnish countryman Jarmo Kekalainen. The Columbus executive had disclosed that he tried to move up in the 2016 draft to select Laine instead of Dubois to no avail following the announcement of the deal on January 23rd. Dubois boasts a strong two way game, but Laine might be one of the most talented scorers of his generation. The Finnish winger was a breakout star in his draft year. He had 33 points in 46 regular season games against men in the Finnish pro league, tallied 10 goals and 15 points in 18 playoff games, and then he torched his age group at the World Juniors with 7 goals and 13 points in 7 games. By the end of 2016 everyone in the hockey world knew the name Patrik Laine. The only way he wouldn’t have gone to Winnipeg at pick #2 is if Toronto took him first instead. He was never going to be available at pick #3. When Columbus drafted Dubois that year, they got a consolation prize. Laine was always the prize, luck just wasn’t on Columbus’ side.
Leave it to Jarmo Kekalainen to make his own luck. I’m sure he has both Laine and himself convinced this was the way it was always meant to be, and I know coach John Tortorella is excited to get to work with the young phenom. This player-coach relationship will be interesting to watch develop for the next little while. Laine comes to Columbus after being in the rumor mill regularly with Winnipeg. There was always a sense he wanted a chance with a different club. There were stretches of absolute dominance, and cold streaks that saw him go months without scoring. There were questions about his level of motivation and accusations of playing too much Fortnite. Ugly rumors about his relationships with Blake Wheeler and Mark Schiefele surfaced following the trade. All of these things could be in the past now that Laine is a Blue Jacket. Could be. He has a clean slate, all the talent in the world, and a coach that it would seem wants him to be the star player. The next few months will show us what Laine has learned about being a professional since being drafted.
Laine will get to go again tonight as Columbus finishes a back to back vs Dallas, and all eyes will be on him as fans await his first goal as a Blue Jacket. Smart money says it’s an offside one-timer on the powerplay. Dubois, on the other hand, is yet to suit up for Winnipeg as he must finish his 14 day quarantine after crossing the border as per Canadian covid protocol. Dubois seemed thrilled by the trade, and he will get a chance to play for the organization that employs his father as an assistant coach for their AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose. It will also be interesting to see what becomes of Ohio native Jack Roslovic, who was acquired by the Blue Jackets alongside Laine. The former first round pick failed to launch during his time as a Winnipeg Jet, but perhaps a fresh start in his hometown is just what he needed to kickstart his career.