The end of 2016 is upon us, and this year brought an exciting NHL draft. With Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs as a no-doubt first overall pick, and Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets as the second overall pick, many fans wonder which team lucked out more: Toronto, or Winnipeg.
In the beginning of the 2016-17 season, most would have thought that the Maple Leafs lucked out, when Matthews scored four goals in his NHL debut against the Ottawa Senators.
However, an argument could have also been made for Laine. With a little more productive month in November (7 G, 4 A – 11 P) than Matthews, it seemed to go back and forth between the two young superstars.
While everyone thought Matthews was going to be the first overall pick (and he was), no one really put up a case for Laine. But after the first three months of the season, is there a possibility that this could have back fired for Toronto?
Matthews – The One and Done Kid
It seemed as if Matthews would be breaking records left and right after his 4-goal game. While the four goals were impressive, and any normal NHL fan would not expect that from him every game, one might hope for some consistency.
Multi-goal games aren’t expected, but the next time he saw such a feat was on November 23 – a little more than a month later his NHL debut – when he scored two goals against the New Jersey Devils.
For the rest of the season, if he goes at his current rate of production, this should be an above-average NHL rookie season. He will be right with the two previous first-overall picks, Connor McDavid and Aaron Ekblad.
Matthews didn’t carry the Maple Leafs on his back and take them to new horizons by overtaking the Atlantic Division, nor the Eastern Conference. However, they’re showing more life than they had the past couple years. Finishing dead last in the previous season (29-42-11, 69 P), a sixth place spot in the Atlantic is a big confidence booster.
Patrik Laine – The True Rookie Underdog
While Laine was the second overall pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, he did not let that phase him throughout his first season. With a couple more points than Matthews, many will wonder what the beginning of 2017 will bring for this rookie.
His NHL debut wasn’t as spectacular as Matthews’, but he was still present for the Jets, nonetheless. With a goal and assist, he seemed to prove more consistent throughout his next couple games, producing in good amounts (including a hat-trick against Toronto on October 19, a game where Matthews only had an assist).
Similar to Matthews, if he keeps his rate of production up throughout the rest of the NHL season, Laine will be right up with McDavid and Ekblad. Comparing him to the two previous second-overall picks, he might be considered a little better than them during their rookie season (Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart).
Laine and the Jets are in a similar position compared to last year – towards the bottom of the Central Division in the Western Conference. While sixth place is better than eighth, they still could improve. But they can’t rely on Laine, their entire team needs to play with better chemistry.
So Who Lucked Out?
If one were a Maple Leafs fan, they’d say they got the better deal when they drafted Matthews, and vice versa for the Jets fans when drafting Laine. Stats aren’t also the only thing that gets thought of when choosing which team “lucked out.” It’s about the team, and line, chemistry, and the moral the player brings to his teammates.
From a statistical standpoint, Laine has won the “lucked out” game. With 30 points (as of December 27), and no signs of stopping, he has proven that maybe he should’ve been discussed more during the first-overall talks by other analysts.
Looking at overall team performance, it could be Matthews who wins this category. With nearly 100 goals on the season, not even halfway through, Toronto can surpass the amount they had last year (198). As a center, Matthews also has to control the ice, making sure his teammates are in position at any given moment.
Overall, with a lot left to prove throughout the rest of the season and into the offseason, the Toronto Maple Leafs lucked out with Auston Matthews. With a little more team chemistry, and what looks like to be a strong return in the new year, Toronto can hopefully expect good things.