Immediately after the Leafs won the draft lottery a couple weekends ago, it started. We began questioning everything.
Auston Matthews always seemed like a slam dunk number one in every way, like McDavid or Tavares or Stamkos or any other elite center before him. But then it was reported the Leafs themselves had a scout with doubts about taking the American first overall, instead making a case for widely-considered number two Patrik Laine.
The tiny seed of doubt was planted, but it still didn’t matter much. Most outlets and scouting services still had Matthews above the rest.
Now, however, ESPN has gotten in on the Laine train, and their draft authority, Corey Pronman (whose work I always enjoy, personally) believes the big Finn is just a step ahead.
You can read Pronman’s entire top 100 here (Insider Paywall), along with his stand-alone for Matthews vs. Laine, to see how he comes to these final rankings as we head into the draft in six weeks. And to be clear, there’s no trashing of Matthews or anything going on here.
As Pronman notes, this pick is still very close to being a coin-flip for him.
But someone has to be first. And over at ESPN it’s now Laine.
One of the main things tipping this ranking in Laine’s favour is simply age. As we all know, the difference between Matthews being part of the McDavid draft and this one is just 48-hours. He’s on the “old” end of this draft, and given Pronman’s work looking at early and late birthdays in the past, it’s no surprise this would factor in substantially.
Some might roll their eyes at the assertion that seven months can be significant, but it is when players are this young. When you research the standard of excellence for an under-18 player versus that of an under-19 player, it’s a significant difference…As a player who is nearly a full year older and who has a full extra season of hockey experience, Matthews can’t just be going tit-for-tat with Laine…I believe Matthews has been slightly better — but that’s not enough.
It’s hard to deny this surge from Laine in the last six months or so, but for me personally it isn’t enough to overtake Matthews’ absurd body of work over the last couple years. I will say this ranking by Pronman is surprising, since while we usually do see the gap between one and two close a bit as the draft gets closer, rarely is the top guy actually overtaken. And unlike some outlets who are often clearly throwing out hot takes to drive traffic or debate for the sake of it, that isn’t the case here.
It’s simply a list. A list with Laine ahead of Matthews for top pick. The pick where the Leafs are selecting next month. We might not agree with it (and I don’t personally), but it’s from one of the more reputable draft sources out there. And given we know how methodical the Leafs will be about their preparation for this pick, it again makes me question how that front office (analytical in their approach, like Pronman) will eventually lean.
So, again, like any of these pre-draft lists, take from it what you will [In this case, likely a boatload more stress if you’re a Toronto fan].