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Hey Patrik Laine, How Do You Like Playing for the Finnipeg Jets?

Why is Patrik Laine happy? Because Joona Luoto is also with the Jets.

I just looked this statistic up and according to QuantHockey, there are currently 49 players from Finland playing in the NHL. Given there are 31 NHL teams, that means that many teams don’t have two Finnish players. Fortunately, for the Winnipeg Jets Patrik Laine, that isn’t the case in Winnipeg.

In fact, one of the reasons Laine is happy in Winnipeg is that just before the 2019 NHL Entry Draft the Jets signed an undrafted forward from Tampere, Finland, named Joona Luoto to a three-year entry-level contract. But the real kicker is that Luoto is a childhood friend from the same hometown as the Jets’ 2016 second overall pick.

In fact, the Jets great player noted how awesome it was to have Luoto with the team. Laine put it this way,

“He’s a really good friend of mine, one of my best friends. Obviously having him in Winnipeg it’s pretty sweet. For him, as well, he lived with me all of last year so it was a lot of fun. It’s always fun to have Finnish guys on the team.”

Related: Winnipeg Jets’ Goalie Situation: Who Will Backup Connor Hellebuyck Next Season?

It Might Be Lonely to Be a Finnish Hockey Player

This weekend, the Illegal Curve’s David Minuk wrote an interesting post that reminded me about how lonely it must be for European (or other) hockey players to be without friends and country-mates in a city that’s far away from their original home. That many NHL players go on to make Canada their home is obvious; however, getting comfortable takes time – and, in the meantime, it’s simply lonely.

On the weekend, Laine was interviewed during a conference call from his home in Finland during the NHL’s suspension. And, one of the things he was asked about was the increased number of Finnish players around Winnipeg this season – and that includes Luoto.

More Finnish Players Are in the Pipeline

Last summer during the 2019 NHL Entry Draft in Vancouver, the Jets drafted even more young Finnish players. The 19-year-old Ville Heinola was drafted in the first round (20th overall) and 19-year-old Henri Nikkanen was drafted in the fourth round (113th overall). As a result, because of the presence of so many young players from Finland in the Jets’ organization, the media has changed the name of the city from Winnipeg to Finnipeg. Obviously, not really – but all in good fun.

How Has Luoto Done in North America?

Luoto started 2019-20 with the Jets AHL affiliate the Manitoba Moose but was called up to the Jets during the season. He played 16 games with the team but then was sent back to the Moose for the rest of his shorted season. I say shortened because, sadly, he needed surgery for an undisclosed “upper-body” injury and missed the remainder of the season.

Luoto himself noted that playing in North America took some getting used to: “There are so much bigger rinks in Europe that … it took me a while, but I think I’m getting better (at playing against the wall).”

He added, “You have to be ready to take those rims (around the wall) and be physical and be hard on the boards.”

Luoto also thinks that “there is a whole lot more we can do and improve, but it’s getting better all the time. We are getting some offensive-zone time, but the goals haven’t come to us. But I think it’s coming pretty soon.” (from “Luoto catching up to smaller ice surface, Jason Bell, Winnipeg Free Press, 12/20/19)

Related: TSN’s Winnipeg Jets All-Time Team Throughout Its History

Next Season – It Might Truly Be Finnipeg, Manitoba

Might next year be the season where the Jets’ organization –  both the Jets and the Moose – have the most Finnish talent in the NHL? In theory, the organization could ice Patrik Laine, Kristian Vesalainen, Ville Heinola, Sami Niku, and Joona Luoto for a full season. And, should the Jets’ 2017 4th round draft pick Santeri Virtanen find a home in the organization, it should be fun to play in Finnipeg.

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