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NHL Draft

Top prospects impress Maple Leafs' Lamoriello

Toronto GM likes what he sees from Matthews, Laine, Puljujarvi at NHL Scouting Combine

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

BUFFALO -- Overseeing his first NHL Draft as general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Lou Lamoriello will leave no stone unturned.

The fact Lamoriello is sitting in on more than 85 interviews with 2016 NHL Draft-eligible prospects at the NHL Scouting Combine this week at First Niagara Center is proof of that. Since becoming the 16th general manager of the Maple Leafs on July 23, 2015, after 28 seasons with the New Jersey Devils, Lamoriello has made a point to help play a key role in every major business decision.

One that will have a huge impact on the organization for years to come takes place June 24, with the Maple Leafs holding the No. 1 pick in the draft. Zurich center Auston Matthews, Tappara right wing Patrik Laine and Karpat right wing Jesse Puljujarvi, expected to be the top three players selected, each made a good impression on Lamoriello during the interview portion of the combine.

"I certainly haven't watched all these players play, but I am going to have an opportunity to see them as people, see their personalities and tie that to what are scouting reports are," Lamoriello said. "But the decisions will come from our scouting staff, just like they did when I was in New Jersey."

Lamoriello said Maple Leafs director of player personnel Mark Hunter will make the important decisions at the draft.  

"Everyone has input, but it comes down to your head scout and the staff who sees the players," Lamoriello said. "The whole organization is involved, but you have to respect the people who are doing the 24-hour job. But part of my responsibility is to be aware and make sure everything is going in the direction that is best for the organization."

Many expect the Maple Leafs to select Matthews, who spent this past season playing for Zurich in National League A, the top professional league in Switzerland.

Video: Get to know top NHL prospect, Auston Matthews

"He's a quality young man and a tremendous amount of credit must go to his family to how he represents himself," Lamoriello said. "But I will say that each of the top three prospects (Matthews, Laine, Puljujarvi) are quality people, quality players. I know three teams are going to get exceptional players."

The Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets and Columbus Blue Jackets have the first three picks in the draft, respectively.

Lamoriello did not question any of the prospects during the interviewing process. He instead listened attentively and took mental notes.

"I had already talked to Matthews at the World Championship and I'm sure we'll have a chance to speak to him again," Lamoriello said. "It's no different than the other players." 

Matthews helped the United States win the bronze medal at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship, tying for the tournament lead with seven goals in seven games. He also tied for the U.S. lead with 11 points and was named to the tournament all-star team.

More recently, Matthews impressed at the 2016 IIHF World Championship, with six goals and three assists in 10 games for the United States, which finished fourth. Only Laine and Gustav Nyquist of the Detroit Red Wings, scored more goals in the tournament than Matthews.

Laine was named MVP of the Liiga playoffs after helping Tappara to the league championship with 10 goals and 15 points in 18 playoff games. He also helped Finland win a gold medal at the 2016 World Junior Championship, tying for the tournament scoring lead with seven goals, and he had 13 points. Laine was tied for fourth in scoring at the World Championship with seven goals and five assists, and tied Nyquist for most goals in the tournament. He was also named the tournament MVP.

Puljujarvi was clutch for Finland at the 2016 WJC. He was named the best forward and most valuable player after a tournament-best 17 points.

"In the World Juniors, all three played extremely well," Lamoriello said. "There's no question the quality of the players, but there's a lot of good players in the draft. The focus one day is in a certain area but tomorrow it changes to another area, so you have to be very careful."

The Maple Leafs have 12 picks in the draft. They have two in each of the first four rounds, one in the fifth, two in the sixth and one in the seventh.

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