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Laine makes case he can be better than Matthews

by Mike G. Morreale / Winnipeg Jets

BUFFALO, New York -- Patrik Laine said he thinks the Toronto Maple Leafs should use the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft on him, not Auston Matthews.

"I think I have the ability to someday become the best player in the NHL," Laine said at the NHL Scouting Combine on Saturday. "Maybe other guys are good at many different things, but not really good at one thing. I think I am. I think me and Matthews are quite even [at this stage in development]."

Matthews, who played this season in Switzerland, is No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of international skaters, and Laine, from Finland, is No. 2.

"Toronto has a tough decision to make," Laine said.

The Winnipeg Jets have the No. 2 choice in the draft, which will be held at First Niagara Center here on June 24-25.

"I think I have a better shot (than Matthews) and an ability to score goals, and Matthews has an ability to create chances for his linemates and he can score," Laine said. "He has good hands and is good at protecting the puck, good in every zone on the ice."

Laine, a right wing who plays for Tappara in Liiga, Finland's top league, turned 18 on April 19. He is seven months younger than Matthews, a center for Zurich in Switzlerland's National League A who turns 19 on Sept. 17, and said that's another reason he has the higher ceiling.

"[Seven] months is a long time, and I think if he's better than me at some things I will catch him during those seven months," Laine said. "I don't know if that gives me an advantage but I just want to show that I am a good player and hope that I will get drafted at the top."

Laine compared himself to Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, and said he would hope to be as good as his favorite player five years into his NHL career. He compared Matthews to Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews.

Matthews and Laine ended their responsibilities at the combine at HarborCenter on Saturday. After finishing his nine fitness tests on Saturday, Matthews seemed more focused on what he needs to do to improve.

"I focus on myself and want to get better," Matthews said. "[Laine] is a very good player, he's had a great year, but so has (Finland forward) Jesse Puljujarvi and a lot of other players in this draft. I've played against [Laine and Puljujarvi] quite a bit and we know each other very well. I don't think about the comparison so much, though. I control what I can control."

Matthews and Laine have respect for each other but a competitive verve that is easily transparent. Matthews interviewed with seven NHL teams and Laine interviewed with eight during the week.

The fitness portion of the combine didn't go the way Laine envisioned. After experiencing discomfort in his left knee 7:30 into the VO2 max bike endurance test Friday, he was limited to the bench press and pull-ups Saturday.

On the bench, Laine (6-foot-4, 201 pounds) did 12 repetitions with 160 pounds on the bar. Matthews (6-2, 216) did six repetitions with 175 pounds. Matthews did eight pull-ups, two more than Laine.

"I was quite upset that I couldn't do the lower-body [on Saturday]," Laine said. "I wasn't in the best shape of my life doing those tests, but it was nice to get on the floor. I think it was important to do the tests I could and show everyone I could do them well."

Matthews had a 76.75-inch wingspan, one inch longer than Laine. Matthews also had a better overall score (15) in the Functional Movement Screen, which requires players to perform seven specific joint tests that could reveal imbalances and deficiencies in movements of the body. Laine scored 11.

Laine had a better left- and right-hand grip, and Matthews lasted 3:30 longer on the VO2 max bike test.

Matthews finished ahead of the overall average (21.1 pounds per square inch to 20.5) in the jump station force plate that measures lower-body strength, and finished a minute longer than the 2016 average in the VO2 max.

"The jump kind of shows explosiveness and leg power, so that's definitely stuff I want to prove I have," Matthews said.

His peak power output (watts per kilogram) on the Wingate Cycle Ergometer test, a 30-second all-out sprint on a stationary bike that measures a player's explosiveness, was 18.1, higher than the 2016 average (15.8).

"I think it's a relief to get the testing done," Matthews said. "I wouldn't say you're dreading it all week, but you're not looking forward to it either. You know you're going to do it so it's kind of in your mind all week, but it's nice to kind of get it over with."

Matthews went barefoot in the Y-Balance test to get more traction, and he beat the overall average in the standing long jump (106 inches to 104.6 inches).

"The Wingate test was the toughest," Matthews said. "They're in your ear screaming the whole time, but I think it helps because you hit a wall going 15 seconds into the sprint. It gets very tough, so I think it's beneficial to have someone there urging you on."

Matthews and Laine will next get together as guests of the NHL at Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final between the San Jose Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins in San Jose on Monday. Then it's back home for some rest before the draft.

Neither player expects to do much once returning home.

"I was quite exhausted after the season since I played the whole year," said Laine, who is from Tampere, Finland. "I was tired and had no time to prepare for these tests, so I'll probably go home, get some sleep and watch television."

Matthews, from Scottsdale, Ariz., is also looking forward to some relaxation before the next big day in Buffalo.

"I'll probably play some golf with my sister and lay by the pool when I get back home," Matthews said. "It's getting a little warm in Arizona this time of year so there not much more you can do. My golf game is not very good, but my sister is a good golfer; she ruins my confidence when I play her."

-- Mike G. Morreale, NHL.com

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