The Toronto Maple Leafs have a very big decision to make, one that will impact the future of the franchise for the next decade and possibly beyond. Toronto currently holds the first overall selection for the upcoming 2016 NHL Entry Draft. There are only two players who are realistically in discussion to be taken with the first pick, American Auston Matthews and the Finland native Patrik Laine.
Matthews has been the front runner for quite sometime. He would of most likely been a top three selection in the 2015 NHL Draft, but because of his September 17th birthday, he missed the cut by two days. He spent the past season playing pro hockey in Switzerland, where he dominated. Matthews’ stock has only gotten higher in the past year.
Not to be outdone, Laine has made a late push for that number one position. His name was relatively unknown by casual hockey fans at the beginning this season. However, Laine showed tremendous growth after ringing in 2016. He was dominant at the World Junior Championships and showed he could keep up with the big boys of the top Finnish hockey league.
Matthews and Laine have completely different styles, but both look like they have the potential to dominate the NHL for years to come. The Winnipeg Jets hold the second overall selection in the draft and they have the easy decision of just picking the player that is left on the board. All the pressure is on the Toronto Maple Leafs to make the right decision, their future depends on it.
Here are 8 reasons for the Leafs to select Auston Matthews and 8 reasons why Patrik Laine would be a great choice as well.
8. Auston Matthews: Not Afraid to Get Dirty
At 6’2″ and nearly 200 lbs, Auston Matthews has great size. He uses his big body to shield the puck from opponents, making it very difficult for players to get it off him. He also uses his body in front of the opposing net. Although Matthews has scored some pretty goals in his time, he also knows how to score “garbage” goals in front of net. He always seems to be perfectly positioned in front of the net for a deflection or a rebound goal. He’s strong on his skates, making it tough for opposing players to move him out from the front of the net. These elements to Matthews game, make him a perfect player for the rough and tumble NHL playoffs.
8. Patrik Laine: Not a Flight Risk
Patrik Laine is a native of Finland, where the temperature in winter gets as low as -30°C. So living in Canada will be nothing new for him. It doesn’t matter where Laine ends up playing the NHL, without having any North American ties, he would be happy to play in any NHL city.
Matthews on the other hand is from Scottsdale, Arizona, where he is used to nice warm weather. Matthews may enjoy playing in the hockey hotbed that is Toronto, but he probably will be tempted to head back down south once he becomes an unrestricted free agent. This is a risk Toronto is taking if they select Matthews. If they take Laine instead, they most likely will have an easier time keeping him long term.
7. Auston Matthews: The Safe Pick
Auston Matthews is the consensus choice by most experts and Maple Leafs fans to go number one overall. If the Leafs go ahead and select Matthews and he turns out to be a bust, the majority of Leaf fans won’t have the right to get angry at management for selecting the player the fans wanted in the first place. A similar example would be if Connor McDavid turned out to be a bust and Oilers fans got mad at the team for taking the obvious choice in McDavid. On the flip side, if Toronto drafts Laine and he struggles, the fans would have every right to be angry.
7. Patrik Laine: Sign Stamkos?
It’s pretty simple. If Steven Stamkos does not resign with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Maple Leafs would be the front runner for the Ontario native. If Toronto is able to sign Stamkos to what would most likely be a max money contract, they would solve their franchise centre need. Stamkos is still just 26 years old and has proven to be one of the NHL’s elite goal scorers. If Toronto adds Patrik Laine to the mix, they are going to be a very hard team to keep off the scoreboard.
6. Auston Matthews: Amazing Shot
Auston Matthews’ shooting skills might be the best in the entire 2016 draft class (although Patrik Laine would have something to say about that). Whether it’s a snap, wrist, backhand or slap shot, Matthews can do it all at an elite level. Matthews has a deadly accurate shot, one that has probably knocked off a few water bottles in its time. Matthews should score twenty-plus goals in his NHL rookie campaign with ease.
6. Patrik Laine: Ovechkin Comparison
It’s hard not to get excited about the potential of drafting Patrik Laine, when he has been compared to one of the greatest NHL goal scorers of all-time in Alexander Ovechkin. Ovie has scored over 500 goals and counting in his NHL career, but he is more than just a goal scorer. Ovechkin is also known for being a physical player who likes to hit hard. He also loves the spotlight and shows an unbelievable amount of confidence. Perhaps Ovechkin’s most underrated skill, one that you can’t teach, is his passion for the game of hockey. If Laine can become anywhere near the type of player Ovechkin is, the team that drafts him is in for a real treat.
5. Auston Matthews: Boy Dominating Men
Auston Matthews spent the past season playing for Zurich of the Swiss-A league. As an eighteen-year-old, he recorded 24 goals and 22 assists in 36 games. His 46 points ranked second on the team behind only Robert Nilsson, a veteran of 252 NHL games. Matthews helped Zurich finish in first place in the regular season standings, but they were unfortunately eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. The Swiss-A league might not be the most skilled league in Europe, but Matthews’ play proved he is more than ready for the NHL level.
5. Patrik Laine: Powerplay Specialist
In the past two seasons, the Toronto Maple Leafs have ranked in the bottom five of the NHL when it comes to their powerplay percentage. A player with the offensive skills of Patrik Laine would provide an immediate improvement to their powerplay. Laine has an elite one time shot and he loves to use it. He knows how get to open ice and unleash his amazingly accurate shot and before you know it, the puck is usually in the back of the net.
4. Auston Matthews: Toews/Kopitar Comparison
Jonathan Toews and Anze Kopitar have led their teams to a combined five Stanley Cups. The fact that Auston Matthews is being compared to those two players has the Leafs, who haven’t won a Cup in nearly half a decade, salivating.
Toews and Kopitar have very similar playing styles. They use their big bodies, as well as their strength, to drive the puck to the net. Both players will most likely never lead the league in points, but they more than make up for it with their sound defensive game. They have both been Selke Trophy finalists, with Toews winning it in 2012/13. If Matthews can become the type of player that Toews and Kopitar are, Toronto will be more than happy to have drafted him.
4. Patrik Laine: Exciting
It’s hard to remember a time when the Toronto Maple Leafs had a player who was so exciting to watch that they had fans on the edge of their seats. Patrik Laine is capable of being that type of player. Laine can handle the puck with the best of them. Go ahead and watch one of his many highlight videos on YouTube and you can see he is something special. Laine likes to use his powerful skating and puck handling skills to split the defenseman, and often makes the opposing goalie look silly.
There was a time when it was near impossible to get a ticket to a Leafs game, but with their recent struggles, they are much more easier to get. Even if the rebuilding Leafs struggle for a couple more seasons, Laine would still put some butts in the seats with his electrifying play.
3. Auston Matthews: Makes Teammates Better
The Leafs have some super talented wingers in their system and without a great number one centre, their production will certainly take a hit. Auston Matthews can be that number one centre for Toronto. He has superb puck handling skills, and uses that skill to create space and dish out laser like passes to teammates. He does all the hard work driving the puck to the net and leaving a teammate with an easy tap in goal. If the Leafs do end up selecting Matthews, every forward will be truly excited at the potential to play on Matthews line.
3. Patrik Laine: Game Changer
Patrik Laine has the ability to take over a game offensively. He doesn’t sit around waiting for the puck to come to him, he creates his own offense. His shot alone has the ability to turn around games. Leave him all alone with some open space and he will bury the puck. When you have an offensive dynamo like Patrik Laine on your team, you’re almost never out of a game.
2. Auston Matthews: Complete Package
Auston Matthews is without question the most complete player in the 2016 draft class. He’s a smooth and very quick skater. He can handle the puck with the best of them, even at high speed. His shot is both powerful and deadly accurate, making him very dangerous whenever he has the puck. He also has amazing hockey IQ, knowing where to be on the ice at all times. Defensively he has a little room grow, but his incredible offensive skills are worth him slacking a bit in his own end.
2. Patrik Laine: Room for Growth
In October of 2015, Patrik Laine was ranked by most scouting experts as a consensus top ten pick for the 2016 NHL Draft. However, almost nobody had him ranked among the top three prospects. To show how much and how quickly Laine grew as a player, by January of 2016, he became a consensus top three pick. If Laine could get that much better in three months, who knows how good he can get in a few years time…
1. Auston Matthews: Position, Position, Position
This is the main reason why you are probably going hear Brendan Shanahan announce Auston Matthews name as the first player taken in the 2016 draft. The Leafs have been looking for a franchise centre ever since Mats Sundin left the team back in 2008, as the centre ice position is the hardest position to fill in the NHL. Austin Matthews has all the the tools to become an elite centre in the NHL. If Patrik Laine had been a centre as well, it would make Toronto’s choice much more difficult. The Leafs already have promising prospects who are capable of playing the wing in William Nylander and Mitch Marner.
1. Patrik Laine: Amazing Under Pressure
Patrik Laine solidified his spot as a top three prospect with his outstanding performance at the 2015 World Junior Hockey Championships. He scored seven goals and added six assists on the way help Finland capture the Gold Medal. Not only did Laine perform amazing while playing against kids his own age, he did the same thing playing against men. Laine spent the 2015-16 season playing for Tappara Tampere of the top Finnish league. Laine had a great regular season, recording 33 points in 46 games. Those are fantastic numbers for a teenager playing against grown men, but Laine really stepped up his game during the playoffs. In 18 playoff games, he scored ten goals and added five assists. He led his team to the league championship and was named the playoff’s most valuable player. Who knows what will happen on draft day? In a twist, Laine’s name may get called first overall.
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