It will be a battle of the top two draft picks in the 2016 NHL Draft on Wednesday evening as the Winnipeg
Jets Patrick Laines host the Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews at the MTS Centre.
Yes, all the talk will surround the two star rookies and while the hype is deserved, there is more to the story than Laine and Matthews. The Jets may have played their best game of the season on Monday night, despite losing 4-1 to the Boston Bruins. The Leafs have looked pretty good in their first two games and it’s possible that they have turned the corner.
The game will also feature the first inductees into the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame as Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson will be honoured.
The play of Joel Armia has impressed many observers and if it continues, he shouldn’t be a healthy scratch like he was Saturday night in Minnesota. Laine will feature on the top line with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler but don’t be surprised if Nikolaj Ehlers takes a turn on the number one line. While the top trio have been solid shot generators, the end results haven’t happened yet. (Despite Wheeler leading the team with 3 goals.)
After a shaky first game, Josh Morrissey has played better in the last two outings, showing poise and confidence with each shift. The 2013 first round draft pick still has room for improvement but if he continues to progress, he should be a fixture on the Jets blueline for years.
Expect Michael Hutchinson to get the start between the pipes. Connor Hellebuyck has been average at best in two starts while Hutchinson was solid against Minnesota on Saturday, despite taking the loss. So far, neither goalie has grabbed the number one job but Hutch can take a big step towards that spot if he plays well on Wednesday.
While Matthews is garnering the early headlines, Mitch Marner has also impressed observers with his form. The 2015 first round draft pick scored his first NHL goal on Saturday night against Boston and has dazzled fans with his speed and skill. Marner could end up being a Calder Trophy candidate, but he’ll have to overtake his more publicized teammate and that’s probably not going to happen.
There is potential on this blueline especially with Morgan Rielly, but this is a young, inexperienced defensive corps that could be prone to mistakes. The Jets need to take advantage of this by using speed and a dose of physicality to rattle the young Leafs. The Leafs D will improve as the season rolls on, but they could be vulnerable now and the Jets must capitalize.
Frederik Andersen is expected to start for the Leafs. He struggled in the season opener against Ottawa but bounced back with a fine effort against Boston. He has struggled with inconsistency throughout his career so no one knows which goalie will show up.
Game Prediction: The Leafs are a dreadful 1-6 at the MTS Centre and haven’t enjoyed their sojourns to the Manitoba Capital. Matthews and Marner are very good but the Jets win 4-2.
Obvious Prediction: Matthews and Laine will both score and Sportsnet will compare the two young studs for the entire broadcast.
Not So Obvious Prediction: Kyle Connor will score his first NHL goal thus taking the spotlight away from Matthews and Laine for a brief moment.