Matthews Vs. Laine; A tale as old as…two years. In 2016 the Toronto Maple Leafs won the draft lottery, and Leafs nation went wild. It was the biggest thing to happen to the franchise in decades, and it’s a moment I will never forget. With the first overall draft pick, the Leafs had the choice between two clear front runners. Arizona native Auston Matthews from the Swiss pro league and Patrik Laine from the Finnish pro league. Both players came into their draft years heavily hyped up, but Matthews was always the favourite to go first. It wasn’t until Laine’s stellar 2016 year where he got some serious recognition as a threat for first overall pick. He lead his team to a championship and was named Liiga playoff MVP. He also dominated the World Juniors and helped Finland win a Gold Medal. Very impressive draft year for Laine. But despite his recent accomplishments, Leaf fans were still drooling over the thought of drafting a Franchise center they haven’t had since Mats Sundin. Matthews amazingly managed to put up 46 points in 36 games for his Swiss team Zurich SC. While that doesn’t sound super impressive without context, its’ quite amazing for a teenager to do against grown professionals.
At the 2016 draft the Leafs made their selection – Auston Matthews. Patrik Laine went second overall to the Winnipeg Jets. At this moment, these two players who were both drafted to Canadian teams, would become forever linked. In a way similar to the rivalry between Crosby and Ovechkin, fans of both sides will argue to the death why one player is better than the other. And like Crosby and Ovechkin, it comes down to two very different types of players. The Elite Two-Way center who can carry a line, dominate possession, and make the players around him better (Matthews) Vs. the sharpshooting power forward with cannon shots and the ability to score from anywhere on the ice (Laine).
Production wise, these two forwards have had a remarkably similar start to their young careers. Here is a quick comparison:
Games Played Goals Assists +/-
Matthews 139 70 53 23
Laine 149 79 53 16
Almost 150 games into their career they are posting nearly identical point totals. It couldn’t be scripted any better, save for a face off in the Stanley Cup finals. So did Toronto make the right decision? Of course they did! One must remember that Matthews has accomplished these insane numbers while centering the Leafs top line, a position much more defensively responsible and harder to learn than being a winger. In a vacuum, a similar center will always be more valuable to a team than his winger counterpart. That’s not to discredit Laine who is ripping wristers and one timers past goalies at an incredible 19% shooting percentage this season, not too mention in the race for the Rocket Richard trophy. But when you watch both players play, you see Matthews as a driver of offense, and Laine as more of a passenger. Matthews uses his beastly strength on the puck and stick handling skills to drive possession, and he’s no slouch in goal scoring himself, with a full season pace of over 40 goals once again. Laine relies much more on his teammates to set him up, and powerplay where he has more room to get his crazy shot off. Give me Matthews skill set every time. Fun fact – Auston Matthews has scored more even strength goals than any other player in the league since he was drafted, and that’s including the time he’s been injured. That’s how good he is. If (when) he can improve on the power play there is no telling what he’s capable of.
With the playoffs around the corner, both Auston and Patrik will be under immense pressure to perform, and I for one am really excited to see how it shakes out. The unlikely kid from Arizona Vs. the Finnish phenom. A rivalry that will no doubt follow their careers.