Debut for the ages
Debut for the ages
Laine tops all-time greats with his first game
"He’s only 18 years old and he’s playing at that level," said Finnish goalie Mikko Koskinen. "It’s unbelievable to see how good he is at that age. There are no words."
In fact, with two spectacular goals and an assist in Finland’s opening 6-2 win on Friday night at Yubileiny, the confident young winger outshone many of hockey’s all-time greatest scorers in their first games at the Worlds. Here are 10 examples.
Let’s start with Finnish legend Jari Kurri. At the age of 21, he was held pointless when the host Finns opened in Helsinki with a 9-2 loss to Canada in 1982.
Coincidentally, that was also the first IIHF World Championship game ever for Kurri’s Edmonton linemate, Wayne Gretzky, who went on to lead the tournament with 14 points. Think “The Great One” went on a scoring spree in this rout? Think again. Gretzky, 21, got just one assist.
Cut to the 1985 Worlds in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Two more Canadian superstars who rank among the NHL’s all-time top 10 points leaders debuted in a 9-1 walloping of East Germany. However, Mario Lemieux was limited to one goal and Steve Yzerman came away with one assist. Both were 19.
In 1989 in Stockholm, Sweden, 19-year-old Sergei Fedorov at least matched Laine’s Game One output, potting two goals and an assist in the Soviet Union’s 4-2 win over the United States. But 20-year-old Alexander Mogilny, who would defect to join the Buffalo Sabres at the end of the tournament, only had one assist.
What about more recent Russian superstars? At age 18, Alexander Ovechkin notched a goal and assist in a 6-2 opening romp over Denmark at the 2004 IIHF World Championship in the Czech Republic. At the 2005 tournament in Austria, Yevgeni Malkin was also 18 in his debut, posting an assist in a 4-2 victory over the host nation.
Finally, check out some top current Canadians. At the 2006 IIHF World Championship in Latvia, 18-year-old Sidney Crosby – the eventual tournament scoring leader with 16 points – began by scoring twice in a 5-3 win over the Danes. And at the 2009 Worlds in Switzerland, Steven Stamkos, 19, debuted with two goals to lead Canada to a 6-1 win over Belarus.
It doesn’t get much more elite than these names. It’s also worth emphasizing that Laine is younger than they were (he just turned 18 on April 19), isn’t playing with a Finnish team that would be considered vastly superior, and faced an opening-day opponent in Belarus that was no worse than – and probably better than -- many of the ones that the aforementioned legends took on in their debuts. Belarus has made the quarter-finals two years in a row.
Of Laine's virtuoso performance, Finnish assistant captain Jussi Jokinen said: "I'm very impressed. You need those guys who you can count on when games are on the line. It’s great for us that he got those couple of goals. He gained lots of confidence because he knows he can do it on this level too."
Now, the tall, blonde kid has a long way to go before he comes close to the NHL and international accomplishments of a Gretzky or Ovechkin. At the moment, his resume principally consists of a 2015 U18 silver medal, a 2016 World Junior gold medal, and playoff MVP honors en route to a Finnish Liiga title with Tappara Tampere.
But this is definitely a great start for Patrik Laine in St. Petersburg.
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