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
For the opportunity to play against adult men. In an interview on Leafs Lunch, Don 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:
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.
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.