By: Garrett Jones
Each year, around playoff time, the National Hockey League awards one of its most coveted awards, the Maurice Richard Trophy, to its top goal scorer from the past season.
Some fun facts about the award: It is named after Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard, who led the NHL in goal scoring five separate times, and was the first player to reach the career 500-goal milestone. Alex Ovechkin has won the award 6 separate times including each of the last four seasons. Furthermore, the winner of the award has scored at least 40 goals. In 2003-04, Rick Nash, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Jarome Iginla all three shared the award, as the each scored 41 goals.
Perhaps the most fun fact of all: A rookie has never won the award.
Surging Winnipeg Jets 18-year-old rookie forward Patrik Laine is on a mission to change all that.
The #2 pick in June’s draft to the Jets out of Tampere, Finland, Laine has been on a scoring tear since he entered the league. As of December 7, he is tied for the league-lead in goals with 17, along with some dude you might’ve heard of- Sidney Crosby.
Laine is just a rookie- a teenage rookie- and he’s already scoring at a torrent pace. He’s yet to miss a game so far for his team, playing in all 29 contests. At this rate, Laine is on pace to score a whopping 48 goals- as an 18-year-old rookie.
Intangibly, Laine is already known around the league for his fearsome wrist-shot. When one watches Laine shoot the puck, it’s striking how he can shoot from the point with pin-point accuracy and fire his shot at an extremely high velocity. This skill set is extremely rare in the NHL.
“I’ve never seen a guy shoot the puck like that,” head coach Paul Maurice told the Chicago Tribune. Maurice has coached in more than 1,300 NHL games.
He’ll have to keep pace with the afore mentioned Crosby, as well as fellow young superstar Connor McDavid of Edmonton. Oh, and we can’t forget about that Ovechkin fellow- the same one who’s won the last four awards.
A notable that helps Laine’s pursuit are If- and it’s a big if- Laine can keep pace with these elite scorers, Laine would definitely find himself in position to win the award. To start, he already plays on the first line in Winnipeg. Thus, he’ll have the puck on his stick more on a per-game basis, and he’ll see more scoring chances.
As far as factors against Laine’s pursuit of the award, recent NHL rookie scoring trends see many rookies get off to scorching starts, and cool off at the end of the season. The veterans like Crosby and Ovechkin that Laine will be competing against will likely pace themselves for the grind of an 82-game season better than the rookie Laine will. In addition, despite the fact that he has accumulated 7 power-play goals, Laine is playing on the second power play unit for the Jets, which afford him less scoring opportunities.
If he can’t keep the scoring pace up however, hockey fans should take time to appreciate what they are witnessing this season- the birth of a star, and perhaps history in the making. And, who knows, if Laine comes up short for the Richard, perhaps a Calder trophy is in his future- which is some pretty sweet compensation.