As America watched the final debate of two politicians argue it out on Wednesday, there was a different kind of debate going on in Canada. This debate was the first of many between the number one overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft Auston Matthews and the second overall pick, Patrik Laine. And boy are we ready for more of them…
Auston Matthews, as you recall, was selected by the rebuilding Toronto Maple Leafs and exploded on to the scene with 4 goals in his first NHL game on opening night. Laine on the other hand, was selected by the Winnipeg Jets, a team one year removed from making the playoffs and are looked at as a team poised to return to the playoffs this year. While Matthews was scoring his 4 goals in night one, Laine also had a goal and an assist in his first game in the NHL. Then, in both of their next few games, the rookies would remain goalless. But then came the first game where the two would face off, and that wouldn’t be the case after the final horn sounded in Winnipeg.
Going into the draft, one could have made the case for either one of the players to be taken number one. They both were kids playing a mans game in their respective overseas elite leagues (Laine with Tappara in the Finnish Elite League and Matthews with ZSC Lions in Swiss’ top hockey league) and they both had a unique skill set. Matthews is a well rounded center with a scoring touch and play making abilities, and Laine is a right handed winger with a cannon of a shot. Matthews is a humble kid from Arizona, while Laine looks like a James Bond villain and plays the part often times too. In the end, the Maple Leafs needed a center more than they needed a sniping winger, and selected Matthews. The Jets nabbed Laine number two, with a smile on their face, and thus the natural number one vs number two draftee rivalry was born.
Now, exactly a week into the NHL’s season, we had the chance to see the two face off against each other as the Maple Leafs traveled to Winnipeg. Things got off to a fast start and before the first period ended, the visiting Leafs had a 2-0 lead and had silenced Laine and the usually raucous Winnipeg crowd. The game appeared to be heading to blow out territory not even 7 minutes into the second frame thanks to two power play goals in the span of 8 seconds by the Leafs. Jets defenseman Tyler Myers would get the Jets on the board by the end of the second, but Winnipeg was still down 4-1 heading into the second intermission. Neither Matthews or Laine had been heard from much to this point, but that would all change in the third period.
Looking dead in the water after the second, Patrik Laine proceed to help take the game over for the Jets. One minute into the third period, Laine gathered a rebound in front of the net and in the blink of an eye, turned around and sniped home his second goal of the year. Then, 5 minutes later, the Jets would get another goal, this one coming from a member of the flashy Team North America Mark Scheifele. But the Jets would still trail late into the game, and after a Toronto penalty, the Jets would have one last chance to tie the game up…with a 6 on 4 power play chance and an empty net.
Patrik Laine was ready for it.
The Jets would win the face off, fake a shot from the point, and toss the puck over to a loaded up and ready Laine. And he buried the shot. The now rocking arena would set the stage for one of the most epic overtime sequences in recent memory. Half way through the overtime 3 on 3 period, Auston Matthews was set up perfectly with a breakaway, only to be turned aside by Jets goaltender Michael Hutchinson. Gathering the rebound, defenseman Dustin Byfuglien sent an outlet pass over to Laine who had a 2 on 1 developing. With Auston Matthews chasing him down, Patrik Laine skated all the way up the ice, looking to shoot the whole way, and sniped his hat trick goal into the net passed Frederik Andersen.
It wasn’t four goals on opening night, but it was a hat trick, against the guy that was drafted before him. It was quite the night for Patrik Laine and the entertainment value for the NHL. Here is Laine’s hat trick highlights.
While both of the young stars have down played any type of rivalry going forward, it will be a match up to mark down on your calendars and set your DVR’s for. Like I said last week, the Kids are Alright.
Games to keep an eye on this weekend:
Montreal Canadiens vs Boston Bruins – Saturday at 6:00. The Habs finally have all star goalie Carey Price back in net. Price got his first win of the season after sitting out due to extreme flu over the Coyotes on Thursday. The Bruins will be without their top goalie Tuukka Rask and he is considered day to day with a lower body injury.
Toronto Maple Leafs vs Chicago Blackhawks – Saturday at 6:00. Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock had this to say about the two teams before the match up later on tonight. The Leafs also look to rebound after getting beat late by Laine on Wednesday.
Vancouver Canucks vs Los Angeles Kings – Saturday at 9:00. The red hot Canucks are the top team in the league, have yet to lose with a 4-0 record. The Kings received more bad news today, with starting goalie Jonathon Quick already out long term, back up goalie Jeff Zatkoff injured his groin during morning skate and has now been placed on IR.
Edmonton Oilers vs Winnipeg Jets – Sunday at 2:00 on NHL Network. The two young and talented teams will take their game outdoors in this years Heritage Classic. Their will be no shortage of fireworks as young stars Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, and the Jets take on Connor McDavid, Jesse Puljujarvi and the Oilers in what will be a wildly entertaining out door game in Winnipeg.