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NHL Draft

Making the pick: Matthews vs. Laine

Scouts provide insight into top two forwards in 2016 NHL Draft

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

Auston Matthews excelled at center. Patrik Laine dominated at wing.

Therein lies the biggest difference between each future NHL star when projecting the pecking order at the very top of the 2016 NHL Draft.

NHL.com recently asked 13 NHL scouts for their choice if given the option; Matthews earned an 11-2 edge.

When Laine was recently told that the center is the more desirable option between two equally talented players, he thought long and hard before finally offering a defense.

"I took one faceoff for Finland at the [2016 IIHF World Championship] and won it, so I'm 100 percent on faceoffs," he said with a grin. "I never was a centerman but if the team drafting me wanted to kind of put me there, I would try and be good at that position."

An honorable gesture by Laine, but it's highly unlikely the team drafting him would ever think of starting him in an unnatural position. Laine (6-foot-4, 201 pounds), No. 2 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of international skaters, can play both right wing and left wing.

Video: Get to know top prospect Auston Matthews

He played left wing for Tappara in Liiga, Finland's top professional league, so the NHL team drafting him certainly has an option.

Toronto has the No. 1 pick in the draft, which takes place June 24-25 at First Niagara Center in Buffalo. The Winnipeg Jets hold the No. 2 selection.

Matthews, a native of Scottsdale, Ariz., is looking to become the first American-born player selected No. 1 since Patrick Kane went to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2007.

Matthews (6-2, 216), No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of international skaters, is not only comfortable at center but perfected his 200-foot game under the tutelage of Zurich coach Marc Crawford in National League A in Switzerland.

"To me we're talking about two fabulous players but the fact of the matter is, a centerman can impact the game in a far greater way than a winger and Auston Matthews is a top-end scorer and top-end playmaker down the middle," TSN hockey analyst Craig Button told NHL.com. "It doesn't guarantee he'll score more goals or points than Patrik Laine at the NHL level, but when you look at building your team and creating a foundation, Matthews is that center with an ability to contribute in every single area of the game regardless of the challenges."

In Switzerland's top professional league, Matthews had 24 goals and 46 points in 36 games, won the league's Rising Star award and was second in voting for MVP.

He represented the United States at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship in Finland, scoring seven goals and finishing tied for the team lead with 11 points. He also led the U.S. with a 52.5 winning percentage on faceoffs (63) in seven games.

Matthews also skated with NHL players at the 2016 IIHF World Championship in Russia. He led the U.S. in goals (six) and tied for the lead in points (nine). He will represent Team North America at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Laine had seven goals and 12 points as a right wing 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.

Video: Get to know top NHL Draft prospect Patrik Laine

He helped Finland win the gold medal as a left wing at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship and was added to Team Finland's roster for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

NHL.com sought the opinion of 13 NHL scouts who have watched Matthews and Laine this season. The scouts promised honesty in exchange for anonymity.

Scouts in favor of Matthews:

"I think the big center is so hard to come by and Matthews separates himself just because of that. Winnipeg is pretty fortunate to be getting a player like Laine, though. It's kind of like Buffalo last year when they were able to draft Jack Eichel at No. 2 after Edmonton took Connor McDavid. If Laine is your second pick, you're doing pretty well. But to me the big center is the one you take."

"This is a tough decision actually, but Matthews gets my vote by a narrow margin. As an underage player, Matthews was already doing so many things in every aspect of the game and he was also doing that elite stuff. In the World Championship, Matthews was the guy on that team. I think Laine had a little bit better environment to succeed in at the World Championship, and when you have a center that plays zones like Matthews does, it's pretty exceptional."

"I like Matthews but the team holding the No. 2 pick is going to get a darn good player. Matthews has a little bit of an edge, and can shoot the puck just as effectively. He has an I'll-show-you type of attitude."

"I'd pick Matthews because he's a center. He's a more complete 200-foot player."

Scouts in favor of Laine:

"I saw Laine a little more than Matthews, and I like everything about his game. He's big, strong, can skate and shoot. He's the complete package."

"Laine is my pick because I like to take the riskier pick. In my eyes Laine has slightly more upside. Matthews is the safe pick and I'm more confident to predict his career. I do feel Matthews is a No. 1 center with a reliable two-way game. He'll probably score 30-35 goals in his best years. Laine, however, is such an attractive package. He has special tools that give him the chance not only to become a NHL star, but superstar. I predict around 45 goals and 45-50 assists. He has a huge frame, intelligence and confidence, and those areas to me give him a slight edge in the best-case scenario. On the downside I'm a bit concerned about how injury-prone he might be and whether he ever will become the well-rounded player Matthews could be in the end. So while Laine is the riskier pick, I stand by my choice."

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