Why Drafting Patrik Laine 1st Overall is Ridiculous

Please stop. There’s been chatter over social media (and in the actual media) about where Finnish sniper Patrik Laine should be ranked. Given the title, I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear me say I don’t have him at the top of my draft board.

When the season started, there was only one name that people were really getting excited for, and that was American centerman Auston Matthews. So what’s changed?

Well, quite a lot. Even in the context of Matthews and Laine, a lot has happened.

MATTHEWS WENT TO SWITZERLAND

Why Switzerland?

For the opportunity to play against adult men. In an interview on Leafs LunchDon Granato (coach of Auston Matthews’ US National Development Program team) recounted this story on Auston’s decision to play in Europe.

Via our friends at Maple Leafs Hot Stove

The short of the story is that Auston told me, when he came back, “listen coach, I don’t want to go play junior against younger players – 16 year olds and 17 year olds. We played Division I games, so I got a feel for college hockey. I really want to go play against men because I don’t know if I can do it.” He said, “I want that challenge.” When he was taping a stick in the hallway in Austria, he turned around and looked and saw Sidney Crosby doing the same thing outside the Canadian locker room. He said, “that’s what I want to do. I want to play against men. I want to see if I can do that. I know I can do the other stuff.”

So there’s his reasoning. But the fact that that sounds like an incredibly mature, intelligent and modest hockey player isn’t what I’m bringing this up for.

What I want to display to you here is NHL equivalencies (NHLe) of the NLA (Swiss League where Matthews played) versus the Liiga (Finnish league where Laine played).

Using the data from this post on Hockey Abstract, the NLA has a 0.11 higher conversion factor. Meaning it’s a league where scoring, historically, equates to NHL production by 27.5% more than Liiga. To put this into actual numbers:

Player GP P NHLe
Matthews 36 46 41.91
Laine 46 33  17.06

That’s a staggering difference. Even if you’re of the belief that the equivalancy gap between the two leagues should be closer together, Matthews would still likely run the tables. So how the heck did Laine even get into this conversation?

THE WORLD JUNIORS HAPPENED

Both players were feature parts of their World Junior Championships rosters, so they have that in common. But what do they not have in common?

Patrik Laine: 7 GP,  7 goals, 13 points

Auston Matthews: 7 GP, 7 goals, 11 points

Clearly Auston Matthews is worse right? No. There were only a handful of hockey fans who had even heard of Laine going into this tournament. Coming out of it, everyone was talking about how amazing his offensive prowess is, and I’m not here to deny that’s the case. 

What I am here to deny is that seven games of hockey is actually worth deciding a draft over. The idea that such a small sample could be completely indicative of a prospect’s comparative value against other prospects is asinine. 

Hot streaks happen, teams are made poorly (the US team was probably the most misselected World Juniors roster since the 2013 Canadian team), teams are coached poorly (Ron Wilson; that is all). It’s a fun tournament to watch, but any intelligent scout or manager will tell you it’s not enough.

BUT, OFFENSIVE UPSIDE!

Also no. Not only does it appear that Matthews is already a better scorer, offense isn’t all that matters. Countless scouts have raved about Matthews’ hockey IQ and defensive efforts. 

Here’s just one, Thomas Roost, a German and Swiss League scout for NHL Central Scouting:

“His best asset is probably his hockey-sense,” Roost said. “He makes plays in tight, something only a few players can do. What I also like is his blue-collar mentality. He wants to win all the time, even in practice, and he is self-critical with himself, analyzes his games and wants to improve every day. He definitely carries a good, smart head on his shoulders.”

Doesn’t that sound like a Jonathan Toews, or as Matthews’ coach Marc Crawford suggested, Anze Kopitar to you? Yes, I’ll have one of those, please.

CONCLUSION

Auston Matthews is the #1 overall pick. The Leafs will not pick Laine. They should not pick Laine. You shouldn’t even be talking about it. The draft board sits with Auston Matthews at the top, and the two Finns below him at 2 and 3. 

You: “Laine is #2 right?” 

We’ll save that one for another day.

  • Benjamin

    Matthews put up 11 pts (7G/4A) in 7 games at this year’s WJC.

    You pulled those numbers from Matthews’ WJC in his D-2 year, a tournament Laine didn’t play in. They both, however, played in the U18s that year, where Matthews had 15 pts (8G/7A) in 7 games while Laine had 11 pts (8G/3A) in 7 games.

    Edit: nm it’s fixed.

  • acg5151

    This happens like every year, it was Tavares in 2009 and people were saying Hedman and Duchene could get it, Yakupov vs Murray, etc but almost always the front runner gets picked #1. They just do it to add controversy and drum up excitement for the draft.

  • Harte of a Lion

    The weeks leading up to this draft will be comparable to my childhood memories of an upcoming Christmas. Besides and including #1 pick, I can’t wait to tear open the wrappers and see what new toys the scouting staff have arranged for the team and fans to play with. 12 shiny new prospects, one for each day of Draftsmas? Or perhaps packaging a few of those 12 picks to move up for a “special” pick Hunter covets and feels has extra value?

    Now that the lottery order is set with 7 long weeks before the draft is held, the Scrooge articles and opinions begin creep out, like the ghosts of Draftsmas past. Rubbing dirt or subtly tarnishing the bright and shiny consensus #1, not because it might be true, but rather for those thousands of extra clicks, and possibly just sour grapes.

    For my 2 cents, and that’s all it’s worth, I always felt Puljujärvi was a better overall player or should I say does more things well compared to Laine but if the big left winger ever learns to skate, he will be dominant. Right now he is a one dimensional player but WHAT A DIMENSION!

    It would not surprise me that the team that drafts Puljujärvi moves him to centre and develops him for a few years in the AHL. I believe he has the hockey sense, he seems to think the game quickly, and the size and the determination to star in the NHL at any position. If Puljujärvi was a centre, would Matthews still be a lock for #1? I’m not taking anything away from what Matthews has accomplished or will accomplish in his career.

    I still believe Matthews is the consensus #1 choice for the Leafs but I wonder what Ari Vuori has to say. He has watched Matthews and the 2 Finns more than any other Leaf scout…

    Welcome Austin “Powers” Matthews to The Toronto Maple Leafs, I cannot wait to see you light it up wearing the blue and white

  • FlareKnight

    Honestly, I’m glad to read something like this. In some places the Laine hype is pretty out of control. I do think he is definitely the #2 prospect and that Winnipeg is lucky to draft someone like that. Great size and heck of a shot.

    But, I still take Matthews first without a doubt. Elite-franchise centers don’t become available in the draft that often. He produced outstanding numbers last year, he produced outstanding numbers in the Swiss league. He’s got the offense, the defense, and incredible work ethic. That is exactly the kind of guy you want to be your best player and he sure as heck would be going forward. Saying a lot considering we have Nylander and Marner in the system.

    There will always be some debate and those that prefer the skillset that Laine has. But yeah, Matthews is the top pick here. This isn’t a guy being compared style wise to guys like Kopitar….he’s actually be compared skill-wise to guys like Kopitar.

  • Mcline

    It’ll be hilarious when Laine lights up the NHL next year on the Jets, and Matthews has a sub-par 30 point season..

    Again, Matthews was 3RD behind McDavid and Eichel, and his comparible was somewhere between Eichel’s calibre and Strome’s calibre.

    That’s not much to be excited about, and Matthews will be nearly a year older than the competition.

    Laine’s come up big when it mattered, and tore it up in his exhibition match yesterday for Finland.

    I expect Laine to hit at least the 50 point, 20 goal plateau next season.

    • CMpuck

      What’s hilarious is that if there is any team you put an elite 1C on and it instantly makes them a contender, it’s the Jets and they’re one pick away from drafting him and you can’t trade for one, you can’t sign cause it’s Winnipeg, you can only draft them and now the Jets never will 🙂

      Pretending a team can go somewhere with Schiefele and Little down the middle must be fun. Pretty neat bubble team in the making, we get to build our house with higher ceilings though.

      • silentbob

        YOu can win without an “elite 1 Center”, you just need elite talent at other positions.

        The Devils won with Gomez as their #1, but they had Niedermayer, Stevens and Brodeur. The Ducks won with MacDonald but they had Nidermayer and Pronger and Selenna.

      • Mcline

        Funny how Leafs fans immediately brand Matthews as an elite #1 center, when would have gone after McDavid and Eichel, who both truly are elite.

        I’d say he’s moreso on the level of RNH in terms of defensive play, and Tavares in terms of goal scoring. Both players took a couple seasons before actually coming to their own (RNH as a 2-way defensive shutdown centerman, and Tavares as an all around dynamo).

        He’s ready for the NHL, but not at the level most people say he is. Sure, he played well in the Swiss league, but whether he can transfer that to the NHL indicates whether he is an elite #1 C. Until then, he’s just a really good prospect.

        If Matthews can ever hit a 30 goal, 60 point season like Schiefele did, then I would be pretty happy. Until then, he’s just another unproven prospect.

        • CMpuck

          Uh huh? Every one paid to actually know something about hockey is calling him can’t miss but I suppose your pure salt bias opinion is more informed…

          Can you at least make your trolls clever?

  • Mcline

    How about the playoffs?

    Matthews 4gp, 3 assists
    Laine 18gp, 10 goals, 5 assists

    Also Finnish liiga is ranked 5th and Swiss league 9th. http://thehockeywriters.com/ranking-the-top-ten-hockey-leagues/

    So I’d say in terms of making points there are no big difference, both can score. Laine was selected most valuable player in the playoffs (Finnish Con Smythe).

    I have watched only few games where they play, both are good and flashy players. I would’t be surprised even if Laine went 1st, but probably Matthews will take that spot cause he plays center.

  • Gary Empey

    I think we all need to keep an open mind until the IIHF World Championship in Russia conclude.

    We also should wait for McKennzie’s and Pronman’s final rating.

    I can see the possibility of the Leafs signing Stamkos changing the plan. That would leave Stamkos, Nylander, Kadri down the middle.

    I would agree for over a year it has been Matthews hands down.

    I don’t think one can rule out yet, the chance Laine becomes the best player in the NHL.

    • FlareKnight

      I don’t think one tournament should change anything. Unless Matthews has a tournament so horrible that it scars the memories of those who watch him. A couple weeks shouldn’t change anything. It’s not going to change their actual skillsets which is the basis of why Matthews is the consensus #1 and should go 1st overall.

      Laine should have a better tournament offensively. He’s on the top line for a stacked Finns team. They should simply play more games than the US. The American team is so weak just getting eliminated in the quarter finals should be an accomplishment. Matthews is basically on his own on that second line. I’d still expect Matthews to have a great tournament overall though. An extremely skilled player with a very hardworking attitude. He’ll have a good tournament overall. But only so much scoring that he’ll probably manage with his linemates.

      Any reason we should wait for those final rankings ahead of other final rankings? There’s going to be a lot of rankings that pop up. ISS already has their May rankings out, but I wouldn’t trust just them. Just like McKenzie’s poll of a group of scouts will only tell you so much.

      There is no universe by which a possible UFA signing should change your draft. You decide not to draft the BPA and take the winger, then Stamkos signs anywhere else and are left looking pretty stupid. Draft the best player and then see if Stamkos will sign. Can make roster moves after that point in reaction to what the Leafs have. Not making decisions on what they could possibly have.

      I don’t think we can rule out that Puljujarvi becomes the best player in this draft, but I wouldn’t take him first overall based on maybe.

      If for over a year Matthews has clearly been the best player in this draft class, then take him first overall. I don’t see a good reason to take Laine over Matthews. If we had the 2nd overall pick I’d be hyped at getting Laine, but that’s not our situation. We can get the best player in this draft and draft our franchise center in one move. There’s no question in my mind that’s what we should be doing.

      • Gary Empey

        I agree with you “one tournament shouldn’t change anything.”.

        My point here would be this will be the toughest competition either of these guys have faced in their careers so far.

        It is a good opportunity to see how well they play against some really good lineups. Who gets the most points is not really that important.

        It is a chance for us to get a real eye test.

        It was the comparison to Mario Lemieux that caught my eye.

        Maybe I should be from the State of Missouri, the “show me” state.

        That Canadian lineup looks like a solid NHL team. It should be interesting to see how both Laine and Matthews look agaist them.

  • While I do believe we pick Matthews, the favourite can be overtaken by a dark horse. Seth Jones was the consensus top pick in his year. Just before the draft Sackic announced that he’d take Mackinnon.

    Matthews.

  • Gary Empey

    Here are some of the teams rosters playing this week in Russia.

    Team Russia

    Artemy Panarin and Artyom Anisimov, both playing for NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks, and Dmitry Kulikov, from NHL’s Florida Panthers.

    Sergey Bobrovsky (Columbus Blue Jets) and Semyon Varlamov (Colorado Avalanche); defender Alexei Emelin (Montreal Canadiens); forwards Nail Yakupov (Edmonton Oilers), Sergey Kalinin (New Jersey Devils), Alexander Burmistrov (Winnipeg Jets) and Viktor Tikhonov (Arizona Coyotes).
    ———————–

    Team USA

    1 G Keith Kinkaid New Jersey Devils
    5 D Connor Murphy 1.93 m Arizona Coyotes
    6 D Chris Wideman Canada Ottawa Senators
    7 F J. T. Compher United States University of Michigan
    10 F Jordan Schroeder United States Minnesota Wild
    14 F Tyler Motte United States University of Michigan
    15 D Noah Hanifin Carolina Hurricanes
    7 D Steven Santini Boston College
    18 F Kyle Connor University of Michigan
    19 F Patrick Maroon Edmonton Oilers
    21 F Dylan Larkin Detroit Red Wings
    23 F Matt Hendricks Edmonton Oilers
    24 F Hudson Fasching Buffalo Sabres
    28 F Miles Wood Boston College
    29 D Jake McCabe Buffalo Sabres
    30 G Mike Condon Montreal Canadiens
    31 G Thatcher Demko Boston College
    34 F Auston Matthews Switzerland ZSC Lions
    48 F Vince Hinostroza Rockford IceHogs
    55 D David Warsofsky New Jersey Devils
    71 F Nick Foligno Columbus Blue Jackets
    76 D Brady Skjei

    Team Canada – Preliminary Roster more to come like Corey Perry

    Goaltenders:
    Calvin Pickard, Colorado Avalanche (NHL)
    Cam Talbot, Edmonton Oilers (NHL)

    Defencemen:
    Cody Ceci, Ottawa Senators (NHL)
    Chris Tanev, Vancouver Canucks (NHL)
    Ben Hutton, Vancouver Canucks (NHL)
    Ryan Murray, Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL)
    Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL)

    Forwards:
    Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers (NHL)
    Matt Duchene, Colorado Avalanche (NHL)
    Brendan Gallagher, Montreal Canadiens (NHL)
    Max Domi, Arizona Coyotes (NHL)
    Sam Reinhart, Buffalo Sabres (NHL)
    Boone Jenner, Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL)
    Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets (NHL)
    Mark Stone, Ottawa Senators (NHL)
    Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins (NHL)
    Ryan O’Reilly, Buffalo Sabres (NHL)
    Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers (NHL)

    Both Laine and Matthews will be playing against some decent NHL players. It should be a good test.

  • DreamHockey

    Has anyone even been watching and examining the plays and highlights of Auston Matthew’s and Patrik Laine?

    Just because Matthew’s has been putting up those numbers doesn’t mean he’s better then Laine. I’ve been watching both there games and highlights and Laine is a crazy stick handler and deker. Better then Matthews for sure. There are videos of Laine constantly deking out 2 to 3 defenders just like how connor mcdavid would do. But I don’t see matthews having that ability, maybe in a play here or there. Laine with this crazy ability of constantly deking out his oponents that he just recently enhanced. A skill thats been enhancing from game to game to being even better in the playoffs. If you put Laine and Matthew’s now in an 80 game season. Laine would be the one with the most points. LAINE has like 100 shots in the season and second only being a guy with 60 something shots. That’s how many times Laine can reach the net. All this ability including his 6’4″ frame, Laine should be the number 1 after he clear cut shows it in the iihf tournament tmrw.

  • DreamHockey

    Just watched both the USA/Canada and the Fin/Bel games. Kept my eye on Matthews and Laine. Matthews is certainly not working with a stellar cast, but he proved NHL worthy, can see his skill set already, great hockey IQ and work ethic. Imagine him with the likes of Nylander / Marner at some point – hello….

    Then came the Finns. Watching Laine is like watching a rock star, his puck handling is something else. Great instincts and VERY creative, something you can’t teach…he has the making of a superstar. And he’s just coming into his own only now. This is no hot streak, the kid is going to haunt ANY NHL goal crease.

    Obviously that match was vs Belarus, with very talented fellow Finns, it will be interesting to see the overall picture by the end of this tournament. But there is no mistaking, Laine’s prowess has a much higher ceiling than realized, whereas Matthews presents as a more ‘finished and ready’ NHL player.

    If Laine continues on what appears to be a blazing course towards stardom, I can picture Lou losing sleep over this one.
    The concept of a Stamkos / Tavares signing up for the C spot with the likes of a Laine parked dangerously on the wing could potentially turn draft day into a showdown.

  • Gary Empey

    Soo agreed. Laine is going to kill it. Looks like Laine gonna be MVP of this tournament too!
    I can see it too. Ĺou gonna lose enough sleep when he drafts matthews and Laine tears up the nhl just like Ovie first year.

  • #12MorrisLukowich

    There’s nothing more hilarious than reading (or listening) to a talking head based out of Leaf Land

    I mean…(outside of everyone else on the planet) who else would be in the know ?…right..?

    Both Auston Mathews & Patrick Laine are elite players but to suggest that Laine had an easier time playing in the Liiga clearly shows that the writer of this column (Ryan Hobart) does a lot of gas passing through his head.

    This kid JUST turned 18 in April…He’s been playing against adults since he was 16 and at 6’4″, 220 lbs. is just growing into his frame

    He’s a prodigy…A Corey Perry prodigy…

    There is little doubt Auston Mathews will be chosen 1st since highly skilled centers are in demand, but Patrick Laine is a once in a generation player and we’ll be more than glad to have him…thank-you very much..

  • Gary Empey

    Very true. Liiga is rated a higher league then auston matthews nla league.

    If u were to watch auston matthews highlights he had like 10 cheap bang in goals. Most of matthews highlights are nothing special. I have not seen him do anything special at all like no wow goals at all. Maybe like 1 or 2 plays out of all his highlights are impressive.

    When I watch Laines highlights, most of his goals are super fast sniper wow goals and his special stick handling deking abilities are also true nhl elite talent that clearly represents generational talent. clearly shows who’s the better player.

  • Gary Empey

    Laine: World cup, two games, 4 goals, 6 points, two player of the game titles. Crushed Jagrs 26 years old record for most points for 18-year old (took him 2 games and Jagr 10)