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Patrik Laine, Auston Matthews continue to impress

Jets right wing, Maple Leafs center making strides as rookies

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews and Winnipeg Jets right wing Patrik Laine, the top two picks at the 2016 NHL Draft, continue to impress and gain confidence in their own unique ways as NHL rookies.

During the NHL Scouting Combine last June, Laine suggested to NHL.com that he might one day score 50 goals. No one could have envisioned that possible in his first season at this level, but through 17 games he's on target for 42.

Matthews, the No. 1 pick, is still looking to rekindle that offensive magic he experienced in his season opener when he scored four goals, but in the meantime, he's making significant strides on faceoffs.

Four rookies in League history have ever scored at least 50 goals in a season: Teemu Selanne (Winnipeg, 76 goals) in 1992-93, Mike Bossy (New York Islanders, 53) in 1977-78, Alex Ovechkin (Washington Capitals, 52) in 2005-06, and Joe Nieuwendyk (Calgary Flames, 51) in 1987-88.

"I think I can (score 50 goals)," Laine said in June. "I think I have the ability and that talent that you need and the skills 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."

Laine's confidence is something not only appreciated by those in Winnipeg, but others around the League.

"Mike Bossy said to (former Islanders general manager) Bill Torrey before his rookie year that he'd score 50 goals, and he scored 53 and nobody thought there was a problem with Bossy saying that back then," New Jersey Devils GM Ray Shero said. "Bossy had confidence in himself, so I don't think there's any problem with Laine saying he's going to be good player. I think that's good for the sport and good for our league."

Video: LAK@WPG: Laine shows off moves for shootout goal

Laine, who was the No. 2 pick and leads the NHL with 11 goals, is the fourth player in the NHL's modern era (since 1943-44) to earn multiple hat tricks in his first 14 career games. He scored his second hat trick in an 8-2 win against the Dallas Stars on Nov. 8.

He leads all rookies with 16 points, a 0.94 points-per game average, and five power-play goals. He is first among rookie forwards playing at least nine games in average ice time (18:57). He's also top five among first-year players with a 22.9 shooting percentage.

"You can feel it in the crowd when [Laine] gets the puck from anywhere; you can feel the anticipation of the shot," Jets coach Paul Maurice said. "Everybody on our bench has that same anticipation when he's shooting the puck because he might beat the guy from there."

Goran Stubb, the European director of NHL Central Scouting based in Finland, said that while he knew Laine would be good, never did he anticipate the 18-year-old would score two hat tricks in a month.

"The press is following him closely here in Finland," Stubb said. "He's getting big headlines. His success is good for Finnish hockey. Before, all the kids talked about was Jari Kurri, Selanne and Saku Koivu. Now, everyone is talking Laine."

Video: DAL@WPG: Laine leads Jets to rout with hatty

Most impressive has been Laine's ability to adapt to the North American game so quickly after spending the past two seasons in Liiga, Finland's top league.

"Any of the things that needed to come out of his game were systemized by a style of play on a rink that's seven-and-a-half feet wider," Maurice said. "The Finnish hockey program has some things about curling to the middle and curling off your check and in the NHL you don't because the rink is not big enough to do it, and you can't recover. Laine has gotten better each game. You see him now, he's finishing his checks and has a willingness to do that."

Laine is a quick learner too; when asked what he needs to do when things might not be going according to plan in any particular game, he stressed the importance of doing something else.

"If I can't play well with the puck in the game, you just have to maybe hit people or forecheck even better," Laine said. "You just need to do other things better if other parts of your game aren't going so well. It's the best League in the world, so you have to bring your 'A' game the whole time."

Matthews has scored twice in the past 14 games, but remains active in other areas while averaging 3.86 shots-per game. He's made improvements in the faceoff circle with a 49.3 percent efficiency on 138 attempts. Matthews recently went 3-for-4 against Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby on faceoffs. Crosby finished with a 45.5 percent efficiency on draws as a rookie in 2005-06.

Video: TBL@TOR: Matthews fires a wrister past Bishop

Thomas Roost, who evaluates talent for NHL Central Scouting in Switzerland and Germany, has liked what he's seen in Matthews in his first NHL season. He scouted him extensively when he played for Zurich in National League A in Switzerland last season.

"Compared to his first month in Switzerland, Matthews to me has shown a significant improvement in his shot quality; he shoots the puck faster and with less indication where the puck will go," Roost said. "I like his quick release. He didn't have that a year ago at this point. I also think that he did raise his intensity level quite a bit, and also his level of playing without the puck. It's those three points that seem to be the most obvious in my eyes.

"I think that while he's struggled offensively a bit in recent weeks, he's still been one of the best players so far for the Maple Leafs."

Shero said Matthews' success in Toronto is a good story because he's one of many young players making their mark for the Maple Leafs this season.

"He's in there with Mitchell Marner, William Nylander, Morgan Rielly; they'll grow together and that's the fun part," Shero said. "The expectations might not be there fully, but it is exciting. It's a great time to be in the NHL for these kids and being around winning coaches. It's exciting for those markets and those teams."

Video: TOR@OTT: Matthews bursts onto scene with four goals

 

Head-to-head comparison

(Games through Nov. 13)

Matthews

Games: 15

Goals-Assists-Points: 6-6-12

Shots on goal: 58

Average ice time: 18:53

Hits: 3

* Goals created per game: 0.33

SAT: plus-35

Points per 60 minutes (all situations): 2.78

 

Laine

Games: 17

Goals-Assists-Points: 11-5-16

Shots on goal: 48

Average ice time: 18:57

Hits: 19

* Goals created per game: 0.44

SAT: minus-41

Points per 60 minutes (all situations): 2.98

* - information courtesy Hockey-reference.com

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