A month into the start of the NHL careers, the comparison between Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets remains compelling.
Laine has six goals in nine games, but Jets coaches and players rave about his shot accuracy and ability to score with such regularity.
"I've never seen anyone score goals the way Laine does in practice, ever, in my 20 years," Jets coach Paul Maurice said. "There are guys who are good shooters in practice but can't seem to find a way to translate that into a game, but he is a gift. There's no question about that. It's a different shot. His eyes are up and he's got the hands for it."
Among rookies to play at least five games, Laine is fourth in shooting percentage (20.7) on 29 shots, and Matthews, who also has six goals, is fifth (16.7) on 36 shots, a total that leads all rookies. Matthews is second among rookies with 1.11 points per game; Laine is fourth at 0.89.
"He anticipates shooting opportunities early," TSN hockey analyst Craig Button said of Laine. "Every opportunity to take a shot has already been processed. If you give a goaltender a chance to make a save, more often than not he's going to make the save. Laine rarely gives goalies time to set."
Video: Patrik Laine channels Jets legend Teemu Selanne
Matthews has at least one point in five of nine games and three multiple-point games. He's second among rookies in faceoffs taken with 95, and his 48.4 faceoff success rate is second among rookies to take at least 20 faceoffs; teammate William Nylander leads at 51.2 percent but has taken 43 faceoffs.
Laine and Matthews have been given ample opportunity to succeed in every situation.
Matthews on several occasions went head-to-head against New York Islanders center John Tavares on Sunday. He forced Tavares into taking a penalty for holding against him early in the second period by using his speed and strength to power his way for a wraparound attempt that was denied by goaltender Thomas Greiss.
"He's obviously the real deal," Tavares said. "He's really in control out there. For a big guy he moves extremely well, has tremendous poise with the puck, and he sees the ice really well. I played in [National League A in Switzerland] during the lockout [2012-13] and saw the numbers he put up in that league last season; that's not easy to do. That's a very good league and it's pretty impressive.
"Certainly starting your career off playing in the World Cup of Hockey 2016 and playing in a best-on-best tournament is a great way for a young guy to get his feet wet and start off this season, and you can really see the impact he's making."
Matthews also had a big test Oct. 25 when his line, with left wing Zach Hyman and Nylander at right wing, was matched against the Tampa Bay Lightning's top line, which included center Steven Stamkos. Matthews turned the puck over on his first shift, which resulted in a Stamkos goal 1:19 into the first period, but Matthews got stronger as the game wore on. He had three shots, won 11 of 18 faceoffs, including three of six against Stamkos, and converted a Lightning turnover into his sixth goal of the season.
"[Matthews] is big, he's fast and he's talented," Stamkos told the Toronto Sun. "He has a motor that never quits. But what really impressed me was the way he rebounded from a tough first period and didn't let that phase him. That shows a lot of maturity."
Laine has at least one point in four of nine games, leads rookie forwards in average ice time per game (19:22), and is first among all rookies with four power-play goals.
"You have to score with these minutes," Laine said. "If I can't score they'll find somebody else."
Video: Patrik Laine scores three goals including OT winner
Maurice has encouraged Laine to shoot more. Laine's best game of the season was his head-to-head matchup with Matthews on Oct. 19, when he had his first NHL hat trick and generated 11 shot attempts (five on goal) in a 5-4 overtime win at MTS Centre in Winnipeg.
"I've worked a lot to get my shot where it is right now," Laine said. "I've just learned on my own. I've watched a lot of videos from YouTube, old NHL players, [Washington Capitals captain Alex] Ovechkin and guys like that. I've just tried to learn on my own and make it better."
Laine scored twice in the third period against Toronto and then won the game with 2:20 left in overtime when he scored on a wrist shot from the right circle. Moments before, Matthews had been stopped on a breakaway by Jets goaltender Michael Hutchinson.
"He can score," Scheifele said. "He does a lot of things well, but he can score. He didn't even look across the ice on the winner to see who was with him and he shouldn't. He should shoot that shot every time."
Laine tied the game with 55 seconds left in the third. He became the first player in Jets/Atlanta Thrashers history to score a game-tying goal with less than one minute left in the third period and then score in overtime. And at 18 years, 183 days old, he became the youngest player in franchise history with a hat trick; the previous mark had been held by Ilya Kovalchuk, who was 19 years, 235 days old when he scored three on Dec. 6, 2002.
"Scoring is the best thing in the world and I scored three goals so it was just amazing to help my team win with those goals. It was just so cool," Laine said.
Laine's hat trick came seven days after Matthews, 19, scored four goals in his NHL debut. It's the earliest the top two picks in a draft have had hat tricks.
"They are two great young players who are going to give their fans reasons to have nights like this over the course of the year and their careers, starting now," Maurice said. "We've seen brilliance from both of them, and lucky for Winnipeg and Toronto fans, they'll get to watch two great players."
Video: Auston Matthews makes history in NHL debut
Head to Head comparison
(Games through Oct. 30)
Shots on goal: 36
Avg. ice time: 17:11
*Goals created per game: 0.48
Points per 60 minutes (all situations): 3.88
Shots on goal: 29
Avg. ice time: 19:22
*Goals created per game: 0.45
Points per 60 minutes (all situations): 2.75
*- information courtesy Hockey-reference.com