In case you’ve spent the weekend in a self-created hole in a park blasting Views on your headpones and haven’t heard yet: the Toronto Maple Leafs won the NHL Draft Lottery on Saturday night. In late June, the Maple Leafs will take to the stage at the First Niagara Center to draft first overall at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
Which name should they announce? Let’s break down three possibilities.
1. Auston Matthews
The Maple Leafs should draft Auston Matthews. That’s all there is to this. He’s the consensus first overall pick at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
Matthews spent this season lighting up the NLA (Switzerland’s top men’s league) with the Zurich Lions. In 36 games playing against men, Matthews scored 24 goals and contributed 46 points – insane production from a 17-year-old. He added another 11 points in seven games at the U20 level, proving that he can roast players in his own age group.
People are somewhat less effusive about Matthews’ skating then they are about the rest of his game, but that’s often the case for young players and it’s something that young men can improve.
Here’s what ESPN’s Corey Pronman has to say about Matthews’ particular gifts (Insider link)
Matthews is a prospect of equivalent talent to Buffalo’s Jack Eichel at the time of Eichel being drafted, and is the favorite to be picked first. Matthews’ pure skill level is the highest in this draft class. The things he can do with the puck border on freakish, considering his frame. He also has above-average speed and great hockey IQ. He has been on a tear in the NLA since returning from the WJC. While some may scoff at the league and say his numbers aren’t impressive in a global sense, recent studies have shown the NLA has actually surpassed the top Finnish league, and is nearly on par with the AHL, with many ex-NHLers making Switzerland their post-North America destination.
Sounds pretty decent.
Here’s how Justin Fisher summed up the decision facing the Maple Leafs, if they were fortunate enough to land the first overall pick (which they have now):
We normally take some time during each prospect profile to talk a little about how this player or that player would fit in well with the Leafs going forward. Sometimes, we shy away from certain players because of a preference for another, or a glaring hole in their game, or maybe because there are so many similar players already within the system. None of this applies with Auston Matthews.
Toronto is already blessed with a couple blue chip forward prospects in William Nylander and Mitch Marner, but quite frankly, neither hold a candle to Matthews. We’re talking about a generational talent (you know, the kind that comes around every year) and a true face-of-the-franchise type player. In fact, Matthews is so good that he could single-handedly shift the Leafs offseason priorities – it’s not unreasonable to think that Toronto shies away from offering Steven Stamkos a big, expensive contract if they feel Matthews can fill that top-line centre role for the next decade at a significantly lower cost.
If the Leafs win the lottery, Matthews is a no-brainer. While Laine and Puljujarvi may have closed the gap in recent months, Matthews is still the top prize available. Not only would Matthews immediately become Toronto’s best player, but he’d also change aspirations and expectations immediately – if all goes well, we could comfortably toss out all of the ‘Tank Nation’ jokes we haven’t made yet.
Basically the Maple Leafs can’t screw this up. That is unless they don’t select Matthews first overall.
2. Auston Matthews
Matthews has been the anointed top pick at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft for several seasons. That’s generally how it works. If a player is truly great, they’re usually famous in hockey-centric circles by the time they’re about 15.
Matthews has all the tools: prototypical size for an NHL-level pivot, a blistering shot, scoring touch, hockey awareness – you name it. And he’ll probably be wearing the blue and white next season. Contain yourselves.
Or don’t. This is a day for dreaming!
3. Patrik Laine
Patrik Laine is a 6-foot-4 Finnish winger who seems like he could shoot a puck through a brick wall. Laine is fresh off of absolute dominating the Liiga postseason and has closed the gap between Matthews at the top of some draft lists, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie:
At face value, nothing has changed from TSN’s Mid-Season NHL draft rankings. Matthews is still No. 1; Laine is still No. 2.
But when 10 NHL scouts were surveyed by TSN in late January/early February, all 10 had Matthews at No. 1. This time, in a survey of the same 10 scouts – conducted in the run-up to Saturday’s NHL draft lottery – two of the 10 said Laine is now No. 1 on their team’s lists. Others suggested they had to think long and hard about their decision to keep Matthews at No. 1.
So you can see that it’s possible that Laine could still be the name selected by the Leafs on draft day. Two whole scouts have changed their minds after all and… Wait a minute… Only two of ten scouts prefer Laine to Matthews? Okay forget that…
3 (cont). Just kidding… Auston Matthews
This is a no brainer. No reason for the Maple Leafs to get cute here. Take the elite centreman. Just do it.
And as for you Maple Leafs fans, enjoy tonight. Good news has been a long time coming.