When two generational players like Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine enter the league after being drafted first and second respectively, the spotlight is going to be zeroed in on the positive and negative aspects of their games. Some people will compare the two to other NHL great’s while others will elect to compare the rookies to each other.
The latter is a big mistake to make.
Nearing a quarter way through the NHL season, the two rookies have had different types of seasons, because they are simply different players.
Matthews started out the year with a spectacular 4-goal performance against the Ottawa Senators and notched 7 points in his first 10 NHL games. While Matthews’ 13 points leads the Leafs in scoring, he’s failed to light the lamp in his last 12 games. Despite displaying his ability to be a number one centre at the NHL-level and being cursed with terrible puck-luck, some throughout the media and social media world seem to be worried about Matthews’ goal drought.
The year is 2020. Auston Matthews has 1,800 career assists and six goals.
— Steve Dangle Glynn (@Steve_Dangle) November 18, 2016
Meanwhile in Winnipeg, Patrik Laine is having as good of a start as you could want. Laine leads the entire NHL with 12 goals and his 18 points places him 9th in NHL scoring. Laine’s season has seen him record two hat-tricks and evolve in to a dangerous even strength and power play weapon. The 18 year-old forward has helped accelerate the Jets new regime and alongside Mark Scheifele have kept the Jets in playoff contention.
What does it mean that the two forwards have had such different starts? Well, nothing really. The two are entirely different players to begin with.
I don’t love comparing 18 and 19 year-old players to future hall of fame players, but I’m going to do it anyway. Imagine Auston Matthews as a Jonathan Toews type player. He may not consistently finish top-five in league scoring, but he’s going to be a two-way, franchise centre with exceptional leadership skills. When Matthews isn’t scoring goals, he can still drive play and help his team in many different ways. That kind of game serves a different purpose as a scorer with consistent 30-40 goal seasons. After all, Toews has led the Chicago Blackhawks to three Stanley Cup victories. Plus, Matthews has shown to have higher offensive upside than Toews.
Patrik Laine’s game parallels to six-time 50 goal scorer Alexander Ovechkin’s game. Ovechkin has won the leagues scoring race on seven occasions and has evolved in to the best pure goal scorer the league has seen in the last 10 years. Laine has the potential to put up a 40 maybe even 50 goal season and he may even reach one in his rookie season. In his first year, Laine is playing similarly how Ovechkin did when he entered the league. His goal scoring is elite, but other facets of his game such as his defensive play are still a work in progress. .
Laine may be ripping up the league with goal scoring and Matthews may not have scored in his last 12 games, but Laine’s focal part of his game is goal scoring, Matthews is not. We shouldn’t be arguing who is better than the other based of goals. We should appreciate the uniqueness and greatness of each of their games.
Patrik Laine has all the moves. pic.twitter.com/qTfEDejwQm
— #HockeyFightsCancer (@NHL) November 13, 2016
It’d be interesting to see if we could see a rivalry develop between the two and their respective clubs. But it’s unlikely that will come to fruition anytime soon. Playing in opposite conferences and each player having mild and relaxed personalities isn’t going to generate a rivalry any time soon. But there’s potential for a Crosby vs Ovechkin-esque rivalry to brew if these two continue playing the way they are.
The bottom line is comparing the two rookies to each other is comparing apples to oranges. One thing that can’t be debated is that these two are phenomenal talents and exciting to watch, for different reasons.