Phenom Patrik 'Patsyuk' Laine's flying start has wowed veteran teammates

"He's 18. You expect there to be a learning curve, you expect to be some speed bumps along the way," says Blake Wheeler of teammate Patrick Laine, left. "All of a sudden, he's leading the NHL in goals and it's not by mistake. You just shake your head." Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images

Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler had heard all the stories and scouting reports last offseason about his team's new phenom from Finland, who could shoot a puck from everywhere and score at will.

Watching it firsthand, well, that's a whole other thing.

"It's pretty incredible," Wheeler told ESPN.com this week. That phenom -- 18-year-old forward Patrik Laine -- has 15 goals in his first 26 games.

"When we got the pick, everyone was excited at the prospect of having Patty," Wheeler said. "You heard all the stories about his shot and the dynamic things he could do. That's all well and good, but he's 18. You expect there to be a learning curve, you expect to be some speed bumps along the way.

"All of a sudden, he's leading the NHL in goals, and it's not by mistake. It's crazy. He gets the puck in areas [where] you don't really feel like [he has] a scoring chance. All of sudden, it's in the back of the net. You just kind of shake your head.''

After scoring two more goals on Thursday night -- albeit in a 6-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers -- Laine is just one goal shy of the league's goals leader, Sidney Crosby.

Laine is on pace for 47 goals. He has already had two hat tricks and, yes, he's earned a few nicknames already.

"That was the big thing: 'What do people call him?'" said Wheeler, 30, chuckling. "He started with 'Patty,' and then he got more comfortable and revealed that all his buddies back home call him 'Patsyuk,' obviously after Pavel Datsyuk.

"So it's either 'Patty' or 'Patsyuk.' Then after a couple of hat tricks, there were a couple of 'Great Ones' thrown around too. Instead of 29 [Laine's number], we'll throw out '99' and stuff like that.''

No. 99's former team, the Oilers, has a current star in No. 97, Connor McDavid, who added three assists on Thursday night to pad his NHL scoring lead. McDavid, who is still only 19, has 34 points (11-23) in 25 games -- and he showed during his rookie campaign last season that he was already capable of dominating. The Toronto Maple Leafs' Mitch Marner, who was second among rookies in scoring through Thursday, is also 19 -- as is Auston Matthews, who's third in the rookie scoring race.

Laine, who tops all those guys with 21 points, won't turn 19 until April.

"It's crazy. I remember myself at 18. Well, shoot -- I could barely play college hockey. I was having a hell of a time keeping up in the college ranks, and these kids now are leading the league in scoring and doing all kinds of ridiculous things,'' said Wheeler, who played for the University of Minnesota. "It kind of blows your mind. You watch them play, and then they're back in the hotel room playing video games all day. You pinch yourself, and you say, 'Right, they're kids.'''

Wheeler, who had a career-high 78 points last season, has watched another Jets "kid" bloom before his eyes the last few years. Center Mark Scheifele exploded for 34 points (17-17) in his last 26 games last season and has carried that hot streak into 2016-17. The 23-year-old leads the Jets with 26 points (13-13) in 26 games.

Young Mr. Scheifele, who is in his fourth NHL season, has 60 points (30-30) in his last 54 games.

"I haven't played against many guys who have been on the same level as he was the last 30 games last year and now into this season," Wheeler said of Scheifele, a Kitchener, Ontario, native. "He has really elevated his game.''

Wheeler has been there to give Scheifele advice the last four seasons, and now the veteran is doing the same for Laine.

"The biggest thing I've tried to tell him is, 'Never get pushed out of a game. Just stay with it all night. A guy like you, all you need is one opportunity to change the whole game,''' Wheeler said.

Wheeler has seen plenty of examples. In Tuesday night's game against the New Jersey Devils, Laine patiently waited for his chance. When he got one, he made it count, firing a wicked shot -- even when it appeared there was simply nowhere to aim -- that beat Cory Schneider top corner. It proved to be the game winner.

Laine does things like that in practice, day in and day out.

"On a 2-on-1 drill, he'll just kind of come down and skate all the way to the goal line and throw it right off the back bar," said Wheeler. "Everyone is like, 'What just happened? Who is this guy?'"

Wheeler saw similar heroics from his young teammate during a Nov. 13 game against the Los Angeles Kings.

"We had a shootout against L.A., and I went and shot it right in the goalie's chest. [Laine] was like, 'Hey, was five-hole open?' And I said, 'I don't know, maybe.' Then he goes out and does that ridiculous move, and I'm like, 'Yeah, I told you five-hole was wide open,''' Wheeler said, laughing.

You just wait. These young Jets have only begun to take off.