Far Too Early for Matthews-Laine Comparisons
Only two months into this season, the inevitable comparisons between Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews and Winnipeg Jets right wing Patrik Laine have begun.
Matthews and Laine were the first and second overall selections in the 2016 NHL Draft. Both were projected to be potential superstars and foundation players for their respective NHL clubs.
It’s understandable that some fans and pundits are already comparing the two. After all, the NHL’s current franchise players – Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby and Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin – underwent similar scrutiny during their NHL debuts in 2005-06.
Comparing the next potential wave of league superstars, especially if they’re selected in the same draft year and join the league at the same time, generates fodder for the usual “who’s better” debates.
As of Dec 10, Laine sat atop the rookie scoring lead with 17 goals and 25 points. Matthews, meanwhile, was in second place with 12 goals and 20 points.
Matthews is tied for the Leafs’ goal-scoring lead and is jostling with James van Riemsdyk as the team’s leader in points.
Both players are off to impressive starts to their NHL careers. But because Laine is battling with the vaunted Crosby for the league goal-scoring lead, some observers consider him a better player than Matthews.
It must be remembered, however, Laine plays on a club with a deeper roster than the rebuilding Leafs. He’s skating with established scorers such as Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little, as well as puck-moving blueliners such as Dustin Byfuglien and Toby Enstrom.
Laine’s also struggled to score on the road. Fourteen of his 17 goals came at home.
Matthews, meanwhile, plays for a team in the midst of a significant rebuild. The Jets carry considerably more established scoring talent than the Leafs, whose only notable veteran scorer is James van Riemsdyk.
The first two months of a rookie campaign is also no reliable indicator of how an NHL career will unfold.
Laine and Matthews have a long way to go to determine which one becomes the better player. We can only guess what’s ahead for them. While it’s certainly possible that they could go on to become great players, unforeseen events could also derail their careers. Perhaps one of them will become a better individual player and the other the better leader and all-around performer.
Besides, the debate over who’s best between Laine and Matthews could be a moot point. Both could be overshadowed by Edmonton Oilers sophomore center Connor McDavid, who’s already establishing his place among the league’s elite stars.
For all we know, in a few years, observers could be saying, “Yeah, Laine and Matthews are great players, but they don’t hold a candle to McDavid.”