Draft prospects face off
Draft prospects face off
Matthews and Laine's big battle
That game was a matchup between the two top prospects in the world, Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine. Projected to go 1-2 at this summer’s NHL Draft in Buffalo, New York on 24 and 25 June, Matthews and Laine were given the biggest annual international spotlight to show what they can do.
Indeed it was an opportunity for spectators, scouts, and the international hockey community to see for themselves what the hype is all about and how these two highly rated, highly regarded prospects fare in a head-to-head matchup.
Matthews and Laine met a year ago at the U18 World Championships in Switzerland on 26th April. Team USA beat Finland 2-1 in overtime. Matthews had an assist on the game tying goal in the third period and nine shots on net. Laine registered no points and a lone shot.
Matthews has long been considered the best player in the upcoming draft. Anyone who has followed USA and international hockey in the past year knows Matthews played in Switzerland for the ZSC Lions Zurich, one of the top teams in the Swiss NLA. He scored 24 goals in 36 games for the Lions. At the World Junior Championship, Matthews scored 7 goals and 11 points.
Laine is a skilled two-way player with a strong shot and playmaking ability. The 2015/16 season has put Laine solidly on the hockey draft map because he’s been so hard to ignore. He helped Finland win U20 gold, contributing 7 goals and 13 points in seven games. Then he led Tappara Tampere to the Finnish Liiga championship scoring a playoff-high 10 goals.
Coming into last night, Matthews had two goals and three points. He was quiet in USA’s opening game against Canada but found his groove in Saturday’s win over Belarus. He's averaged over 18:13 of ice time with six shots on goal. Matthews started the tournament skating on a line with Jordan Schroeder and Patrick Maroon. Against Belarus, Frank Vatrano replaced Maroon on the line and they’ve had some success. Matthews has been used in various situations, highlighting his versatility. He’s seen time on the left point on the power play and in shorthanded situations.
Laine has exceeded expectations here in Russia as Finland’s leading scorer with six points. His point total has broken the record for total points by a player 18 and under at the World Championships set by Jaromir Jagr in the 1990 tournament in Switzerland. Laine has been put on a line with two NHLers, Aleksander Barkov and Jussi Jokinen and they have worked well as a trio. He’s been sublime on the power play where three of his four goals have been scored. His production is coming while averaging 14:07 minutes per game.
We didn’t learn a lot more about either player after Finland’s 3-2 win over the United States. The game confirmed the obvious: These are two very talented teenagers who play with definite poise and skill.
Laine was kept of the scoreboard for the first time in the tournament. He managed three shots, took a penalty for hooking and was -1 in 13:21 of ice time. It was Laine’s turnover in the first period led to the USA goal.
“I thought it was offside and I thought I heard a whistle, so I stopped for a second and the U.S. guys started attacking." Laine said after the game. “But that’s my mistake and I’ve gotta learn from those.”
At times, he showed how dangerous he could be around the left faceoff circle. In one sequence near the end of the second period, he made key passes, dug the puck out of the corner and was responsible for keeping the pressure in the American end of the ice.
Matthews saw 19:09 of ice time with two shots on goal and was +1. He played well, moving the puck but struggled a bit on face-offs against Barkov. Matthews stripped Laine of the puck in the first period and that led to USA cutting the lead to 2-1.
“I was just trying to make a play,” said Matthews of that first goal. “They kind of caught us on a fast break and I poked the puck and Vatrano made a really nice shot coming down the left side.”
There’s no question that both players are incredible talents and likely to go 1-2 this summer. The real winners here are the teams that draft them. The Toronto Maple Leafs will get to pick the first player, the Winnipeg Jets will have the second pick.
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