SUNRISE, Fla. — Too bad Aleksander Barkov and Patrik Laine won’t be able to meet on the ice Wednesday night at the BB&T Center.
Both are big, talented and young forwards from Tampere, Finland. Both were the No. 2 overall selections in recent NHL drafts — Barkov to the Florida Panthers in 2013 and Laine to the Winnipeg Jets in 2016.
But when the Jets (18-19-3) visit the Panthers (16-14-8) on Wednesday, Barkov is expected to miss the game due to a lower body injury.
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During last fall’s World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Toronto, Barkov, 21, played on a Finnish line with Laine, 18, and Sebastian Aho, 19.
Barkov, who is almost always the youngest player on his Panthers line that also includes 44-year-old legend Jaromir Jagr, said it felt odd to play with two younger guys in the World Cup.
“I usually play with Jagr, and he’s 65-year-old,” Barkov joked as he met with the media in Toronto this past September. “It was weird. I was the oldest guy on the line, and I’m only 21.”
Barkov, who suffered an unspecified injury on Dec. 28 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, set career highs last season in goals (28), assists (31) and points (59) in 66 games.
This season, he has nine goals and 18 assists for 27 points in 36 games, establishing himself as one of the league’s best two-way centers.
Laine, pronounced Lie-nay, has already earned a reputation for one of the hardest shots in hockey.
“I’ve never seen a guy shoot the puck like that,” Jets veteran coach Paul Maurice told the media recently.
Among NHL rookies this season, Laine is tied for the lead with Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs in terms of most goals (20), assists (14) and points (34).
Laine is part of an impressive list of players drafted No. 1 or No. 2 overall in the past four years, including Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Matthews, Barkov, Nathan Mackinnon, Sam Reinhart and Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad.
Already this season, Laine has two hat tricks — in his fourth NHL game against the Toronto Maple Leafs and again in Game No. 14 against the Dallas Stars. Both of those performances were home games for Winnipeg.
Laine, though, hasn’t been able to do much to help a defense that ranks 27th in the NHL in killing penalties and 29th in number of goals allowed.
The defense was not very good again on Tuesday night but the Jets managed to outscore the Tampa Bay Lightning 6-4.
Laine had one goal and two assists against Tampa Bay as his confidence continues to grow.
“I’ve seen that I can play in this league,” Laine told the media. “I’ve seen that I can play against the best in the world. My teammates agree with me, and that is the most important thing for me.”
Laine, locked in a battle with McDavid for NHL Rookie of the Year honors, is an intense athlete who is not happy at all whenever he doesn’t score.
Imagine his mood when he got off to a slow start in the exhibition season, but he has been rolling ever since.
“It’s a dream come true to be in the NHL,” Laine told The Chicago Tribune recently. “I want to show everyone that I’m a good player. Hopefully I can be the best one day.”
Other story lines for Wednesday’s game:
= Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo is expected to get the start and if so will attempt for the third time to get win No. 448, which would put him in fifth place in the all-time NHL list.
= Going against a trend, Winnipeg outscored Tampa Bay 3-1 in the second period on Sunday. Prior to that, the Jets had outscored opponents 52-25 in the second period.
= The Jets beat the Panthers 4-3 in a shootout on Dec. 15 Bryan Little scored the tying goal and then scored again in the shootout to lead Winnipeg.
= Jets defenseman Tyler Myers is nearing a return. He has missed 24 games this season due to a lower-body injury. However, he had a light on-ice workout on Tuesday.