Toronto Maple Leaf fans are a hearty, passionate bunch. When the Leafs won the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery last April 30, well, there were some pretty big parties going on at many watering holes and Man Caves around Toronto. Taking #1 Prospect Auston Matthews first overall was a given, and although there was some debate on Patrik Laine over Matthews, it was more chatter than serious discussion. Auston Matthews was THE MAN, and the Leafs confirmed this on June 24, 2016 when they drafted him first overall.
Fast forward to October 12, 2016, as the Leafs take on the Ottawa in their NHL Season Opener. AUSTON MATTHEWS POTS 4 GOALS IN HIS NHL DEBUT, and the Leafs lose in OT. Doesn’t get much more Toronto fan-tastic than that!
A week later, #1 pick Matthews faced off against #2 pick Laine in Winnipeg. The Jets’ Laine scores the 5-4 OT Winner for a hatty immediately after Matthews is stopped on a breakaway by the Winnipeg goalie. Uh-oh Toronto fans, is this a sign?
Last night, the Leafs hosted the Jets for a #1 vs #2 rematch. In a great back and forth game, Matthews wound up with 2 assists while Laine potted 2 goals. The Leafs squeaked out a 5-4 OT win on a fabulous goal by D-man Jake Gardiner. Head to head though, the young Finn outperformed young Auston again.
Auston Matthews is no doubt an exceptional hockey player—he has shown that time and time again while helping the Leafs to the point where they are fighting for a Playoff spot 59 games into the Season, something that could only be dreamed of the past 2 Leafs seasons. Matthews is 2nd in League Rookie scoring, 2 points behind Laine, but remember, Laine missed a few games with his concussion earlier in the season. Leafs rookie forward Mitch Marner is only 4 points behind Matthews, but is battling his own injuries right now, likely to miss at least 3 more games after missing the last 3. Not far behind, the Leafs William Nylander rounds out the top 4 of Rookie Scoring.
Can Matthews win the Rookie Scoring Title? Can Matthews win the Calder as Rookie of the Year? Does it matter?
AWARDS SCHMAWARDS! To me, winning the Rookie Scoring Title and the Calder would be nice for Matthews, a real cherry on top to finish off his first season. If he doesn’t pull it off, is it a huge disappointment?
Did the Leafs draft the wrong guy?
NO WAY. Auston Matthews has shown with his play that he is a real cornerstone for the Leafs to build their future on. Sure, he’s a “kid” but he’s a big solid kid, much bigger and stronger than his teammate Marner, and that kid that’s the Captain of the Oilers now, Connor McWhatshisname.
Just as Connor McDavid grabbed the Oilers last year and led them with flashes of brilliance (when not hurt) and is leading the Oil into Playoff contention in his Sophmore Season, Auston Matthews is already a team leader, and a leading contender to have the ‘C’ on his sweater when the Leafs eventually name a Captain. (The Leafs have been without a Captain since Dion Phaneuf was traded last season, and have been cycling the ‘A’ among many players this season)
Patrik Laine is also a brilliant player, and has shown his tremendous shot release rivals that of Ovi and Sid. Laine, however, is on his great rookie pace playing on a team of mostly veterans, with a very skilled, now 4 season Vet in Mark Schiefle feeding him the puck. Matthews is potting goals and earning assists playing on the same line as rookie Marner, and has completely reinvigorated the Leafs squad.
FIRST TO THE CUP?
Both Laine and Matthews will no doubt have brilliant NHL Careers, and will each likely score hundreds of goals. My money is on Matthews lifting The Cup over his head first however, and he will no doubt be a key piece of that puzzle for the Leafs should it happen. Heck, he might even have the C on his sweater when the Leafs win it, and he’ll be the one with his hands on the Cup first. So don’t panic Leafs Fans, they didn’t screw up….