It was 11:24 in the first period of Thursday's 4-3 win against the Boston Bruins when Patrik Laine was presented with an enigma.
Downhill with the puck on his stick and with his teammate Mark Scheifele Striking hard in front of Boston net on his right, the Winnipeg Jets striker had a choice to make: try to take a corner, the favorite method of a 20-year-old superstar with 109 goals. two and a half years. years in the NHL or drag a perfect pass for Scheifele, who would meet him at the back door behind a helpless Tuukka Rask.
For a guy born with the gift of snipe, the decision in front of him (and the one he will eventually take) would seem to complicate young Finn.
"Yeah, I thought I was going to shoot too," said Laine in answering questions after the game.
Wool chooses option B, thus making a perfect pass for Scheifele, who, as one would expect, sat at the back and waited to receive.
Never hesitated to be brutally honest, Laine explained his strategy.
"If I do not know what I'm doing, I do not think the guard will know what I'm doing," he said. "I thought at first that I was going to shoot, I was pretty close. But then I saw [Scheifele] back door, so let him pass, sometimes. "
Could as well.
Wool has gone from being a goal scorer to an elite scorer (while still a goal scorer). But we always knew that he could.
The game of Wool has flourished since connecting to a line with Scheifele and Blake Wheeler. Previously, Laine was so far in the neck that some thought of the exchange or, at least, to return to the American Hockey League to "teach him a lesson."
Negotiating or retrograding Wool was never going to materialize, but the concern over Winnipeg's precious possession was hysterical, while Laine's drought reached 15 games.
Wool-Scheifele-Wheeler had already been experimented, but the results were average. Laine's defensive game was never up to scratch, and playing on a line to line up against the best in the NHL required all three members of the trio to play in both ends of the ice.
This time it's clicked. Two months spent floating and baffled by his fate in life have simply disappeared. In his place is Patrik Laine, who checks back, who is behind his own net digging a puck and leading the race on the ice. It adapts to the way Scheifele and Wheeler play.
"I think what guys are realizing about me and Wheels is that it's never a guy who passes, a guy who shoots," said Scheifele. "We all do the work, we all do what needs to be done. When you are the guy to score, you are the guy to score. When you are the type to succeed, you are the type to succeed. This is how we have always worked. "
Wool is now working in these settings. Part of that is not having a choice in this area. You play north-south with an intense rhythm like the other two or you play on a different line. The other part is that Laine has adopted the line mantra, as Scheifele explains.
"I think they know how to create spaces, a kind of empty space on the ice and it's very easy for me to try to read them, what they do and where the ice rink will be, has declared Laine. "Now, I'm starting to learn where they want to go and where they want me to go. So it's a kind of learning process, learning every game and every practice. But it becomes more and more comfortable. "
The first line in Winnipeg includes three straight shots, a blend that pleased head coach Paul Maurice. And why not him? The line has combined for seven points against the Bruins and his best shooter has unleashed a more balanced version of himself.
"It's a completely different style of play," said Maurice. "I had three right-handed shots, so when [Laine] opens, he has two very, very fast guys. So Blake [Wheeler] just lead the rhythm and Mark [Scheifele] is very good for finding holes about it.
"It's a different game if it's a southpaw. There are just different types of pieces to complete. That makes Patrik, because of the off-road speed with which he plays, that puts him in position, when he understands it, to have those pass options he would never have had before. This also places it in a more difficult place to pull the puck. It's more of a challenge to see how he gets the puck on that side of the ice, but he's starting to publish those numbers. "
Maurice himself said on Thursday that Laine's match was better day and night as he headed to the left wing of Scheifele's line.
"First, because he's smart and he wants it to work," said Maurice. "But he also knows now that when you play – and tonight we ran [Adam] Lowry against [Patrice] Bergeron – but the nights when their best play [against Scheifele’s line]you do not make two mistakes on the same shift or at the back of the net. The same as it goes the other [way]. We put it there, as much as we thought it would be an offensive group that we liked, to teach him that part of the game. "
Wool went from the kid who was barely passing in the back of the classroom to a clever learner, the raised hand in the front row.
And his game has evolved.
In the past, a series of points for Laine looked like a odds: several goals and one or two assists. For now, he has given up this trend with four goals and eight assists in his last 11 games.
Patrik Wool with a little possessed shot and vision to match? Tuukka Rask had a taste Thursday. All he could do was guess with Laine who was belittling him. Like Laine, he did not know what was going to happen either.
"All the options are there, of course, but when he's one of the best shooters in the league, you do not want to cheat, so I just did not take the time," Rask said.
Good luck, the guards.