BUFFALO -- What if Patrik Laine was a huge hit at center instead of right wing for Tappara in Finland's top professional league?
It's an interesting scenario, particularly since most believe the one advantage Auston Matthews has over Laine (pronounced: line-EH) at the top of the 2016 NHL Draft class is his billing as an elite center.
Matthews is No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's ranking of international skaters eligible for the draft. Laine is No. 2.
"When you play center, it's easy to go to the wing but the opposite isn't so easy," Laine told NHL.com. "Of course you can always have more centers on the top lines. I think it would be a tougher [choice] for No. 1 if I was a center too. But I'm not a center, so I try to just play my position as good as I can."
Laine (6-foot-4, 206 pounds) said he feels playing right wing shouldn't deter any team considering him with the No. 1 pick. That choice belongs to the Toronto Maple Leafs after they won the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery on April 30. The draft will be held at First Niagara Center on June 24 and 25.
If the Maple Leafs select Matthews, as many expect, Laine could be selected by the next team on the clock, the Winnipeg Jets.
Laine interviewed with the Jets on Monday at the NHL Scouting Combine here at First Niagara Center. It was his fourth of eight interviews with NHL teams at the combine.
"The interview went pretty well," Laine said. "They didn't ask so many hard questions. I had a good vibe that they liked me and I think it was pretty straightforward. [Winnipeg general manager] Kevin Cheveldayoff asked questions, but they were basic too."
Laine, 18, had seven goals and 12 points at the 2016 IIHF World Championship and was named tournament MVP for Finland, which won the silver medal. He also was named MVP of the playoffs in Liiga, Finland's top professional league, after helping Tappara win the championship.
He also helped Finland win the gold medal at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship. On May 27, he was added to Team Finland's roster for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
"At the beginning of the season I just wanted to play for my pro team the whole season, and then get my spot on the World Junior Championship team, but everything just started to go in the right direction from the start," Laine said. "I thought after winning gold in Helinski (at the 2016 WJC) that it would be the top highlight from my year, but this has been an amazing finish."
Laine wouldn't mind being compared with Matthews when each reaches the NHL.
"It's nice to have those one or two players that are pushing you forward, players you're kind of competing with," he said. "I want to play my own game, and if [Matthews] succeeds, good for him. It's nice to know that players my age are able to do so well. Comparing is good."
By now, many know of the successful resume Laine has produced not only for himself, but also for his country. In an interview with NHL.com, he provided five things you might not know about him.
1. If not for his father, Laine would have been a goaltender.
Laine: "I started playing hockey when I was 4 and I played goalie. We all took turns at different positions, and when it was my turn to play goalie, I really liked it. I was better in goal than I was at other positions, I guess because I was so big. But my father (Harri) told me to switch for good when I was 12, so I stayed as a goalie for a pretty long time.
"Nowadays, I have to be grateful to dad for making that choice. He was always giving me the right advice, and I'm glad I listened to him then."
2. Laine's most memorable moment of the season was winning the Liiga championship.
Laine: "Winning our pro-league championship meant so much and was so great. The guys had won three silver medals in a row, so it was quite huge for everyone on that team. It was a big thing for me because it was my normal home team. When you're with those guys all day and win together, it just means so much. We were a good team and I think every player brought something to the table to make it a special season. I'll never forget that run in the playoffs for Tappara."
3. Laine's favorite NHL player is Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin.
Laine: "I've been watching Ovechkin since I was a kid. He's been my idol, and I try to copy some of his moves, learn from him. It's just nice to watch him play and score because I love to score. I watch how he shoots from different angles and from how far. He likes to play physical, too, and I've tried to do the same thing with the way I play."
4. Laine worked to perfect his tremendous shot every day, on and off the ice.
Laine: "I learned my shot by practicing it every day, even when I wasn't skating. I had a net in my backyard (in Tampere, Finland), so I shot a lot as a kid. When I was on the ice at practice, I would always stay later after everyone left and keep shooting. That's the only way to get better. You have to make sacrifices to be the best."
5. Laine believes he might one day score 50 goals in the NHL.
Laine: "I think I can do that. I think I have the ability and that talent that you need and the skills that you need to score that many goals and points. I think it someday could be possible and I want to work hard so that I can make that come true one day."