The Toronto Maple Leafs dedicated their 2015-16 season to put in place a long-term rebuilding plan. They knew they were going to be a basement team. Winning this year wasn’t the goal and everyone was informed of that very early on. The true intentions of this season had three different objectives.
The first was to bottom out and get the best odds at winning the NHL’s draft lottery, which is taking place this Saturday April 30th. The Maple Leafs finished this season with 69 points in 82 games. This secured them the best odds, which is 20% of winning the first overall pick.
The second goal was to stockpile as many young picks and prospects as the organization possibly could. They succeeded here as well and shipped out the contracts of Dion Phaneuf, Roman Polak and Daniel Winnik, among others. These netted an impressive return that will see the Leafs have 12 draft picks this coming year. They were also able to gather young talent, most notably in the form of big forward, Tobias Lindberg and defenseman, Connor Carrick.
The third objective was to let the kids play and see exactly what the franchise had. Once given the chance, the young talent was ultra impressive, with names like William Nylander, Zach Hyman and Nikita Soshnikov standing out immediately. It was the perfect tank season and the team accomplished every goal they laid out in September.
Some won’t consider this a perfect tanking season if the Maple Leafs don’t win the lottery and get the first overall pick. They have the best odds sure, but there’s also some degree of luck involved.
The prospect at the top would be Auston Matthews, the much talked about scoring centre. Don’t rule out Patrick Laine, however. The dynamic Finn has been charging up the draft board the entire season and has considerably narrowed the gap on the top ranked American.
If the Maple Leafs win the first overall pick, would it be worth it for them to consider drafting Laine? We’ll explore those possibilities below.
The Case for Matthews
Matthews spent the past hockey season competing against men in the Swiss-A League. He scored 24 goals and 46 points in 36 games for the Zurich Lions. His playoffs were less stellar, as the team was swept in round one. Matthews did however, contribute three assists in those four games.
Matthews is still highly ranked and for good reason. He’s an incredible talent who has all the skills needed to not only thrive, but survive in the NHL. He’s strong around the net and is able to use his size and weight to his advantage. He’s got a powerful shot and also makes great decisions in regard to his puck handling abilities.
He had a fantastic regular season in Switzerland as a player who wasn’t drafted yet. It was a unique move, but one that showed maturity and a desire to challenge himself. Matthews will also get a chance to prove he should remain number one by playing on the United States Men’s National Team at the upcoming World Championships.
The Case for Laine
Laine is a 2016 World Junior champion. He also captured all-star honours at the tournament. This year he can also add 2016 Liiga champion and playoff MVP to his impressive and growing resume.
If there is one player who has raised his draft stock, it is Laine. The powerful Finnish winger has been on an absolute tear and is seen in some scouts’ eyes as the true number one pick of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. He has a bullet for a shot, he’s got the size and is extremely fast.
The young Finn is on the verge of stardom. No one is sure what his ceiling will be in the NHL, but the initial signs are extremely promising. He has also been invited to play for the Finnish team at the World Championships and will get the chance to prove he can hang with some of the best in the NHL.
@TSNBobMcKenzie Just to clarify: Laine has been invited by coach, but final roster will be announced on sun or mon. No one on it just yet.
— Jouni Nieminen (@OnsideWithJouni) April 27, 2016
My Two Cents
I’ve followed the careers of both of these players, especially this past year. Both are extremely impressive for a multitude of reasons.
If the Maple Leafs do win the first overall selection, I believe they will take Matthews. That’s not a knock against Laine in any way, rather, it boils down to the position they both play.
Matthews is a centre. A big, skilled, number one centre is among the most coveted positions in the NHL. This is exactly the type of player the Leafs have been missing since the departure of former captain, Mats Sundin. The Maple Leafs have a glut of wingers itching to make the NHL. Laine would be an extremely strong prospect and a huge part of the rebuild, but a centre like Matthews is extremely hard to find.
In the event that the Maple Leafs don’t win the lottery and instead have the second overall pick, and if Matthews goes off the board first, my gut tells me that Leaf fans wouldn’t be all that upset with a powerhouse Finn in the system.