It would be foolish to underestimate the lessons learned and experience gained by NHL rookies Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets as teenagers playing overseas against men leading up to the 2016 NHL Draft.
While each has had moments of frustration this season, that drive and consistency that made Matthews special for Zurich in Switzerland's top division, and Laine for Tappara in Finland's top professional league have still proven valuable eight months after being selected in the draft with picks Nos. 1 and 2 by their respective teams.
"I think playing against men, playing against older players certainly set Matthews up extremely well to get to this stage," NBCSN hockey analyst Ed Olczyk said. "The preparedness, the physicality part of it. That decision that he made prior to ending up in Toronto to help him be ahead of the curve, so to speak, in the first year has been invaluable."
Video: MET@ATL: Matthews patiently picks the top corner
Fellow NBCSN hockey analyst Pierre McGuire feels Matthews is "as ready-made a player as we've ever had come into the NHL since 1990." McGuire believes Jaromir Jagr, chosen No. 5 in the 1990 draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins, was the last player to enter the League as NHL ready as Matthews.
"It's his ability in all three zones to dominate the game," McGuire said of Matthews. "He can win faceoffs, can kill penalties, can run your power play. He can make the wingers around him better."
Matthews leads all rookies with 298 faceoff wins and is eighth with a 45.3 faceoff win percentage among players with at least 80 faceoffs taken. The Maple Leafs have scored 18 of their 36 power-play goals with Matthews on the ice, and he has three goals and 12 points with the man-advantage.
Here's a look at the rookie seasons for Matthews, Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin, Penguins center Sidney Crosby, and Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid after 45 games. McDavid played 45 games last season, missing 37 with a broken left clavicle.
Matthews: 22 goals, 38 points, 27 EVP, 3 PPG, 4 GWG, 157 shots, 258-of-572 FO, 17:43 average ice time
Ovechkin: 33 goals, 60 points, 32 EVP, 13 PPG, 3 GWG, 223 shots, 2-of-9 FO, 20:49 average ice time
Crosby: 21 goals, 50 points, 29 EVP, 7 PPG, 3 GWG, 148 shots, 185-of-461 FO, 19:24 average ice time
McDavid: 16 goals, 48 points, 34 EVP, 3 PPG, 5 GWG, 105 shots, 249-of-604 FO, 18:53 average ice time
Key: EVP-even strength points; PPG-power play goals; GW-game-winning goals; FO-faceoffs
The Jets have scored 17 of their 33 power-play goals with Laine on the ice. He leads all rookies with eight power-plays goals and is tied with Matthews for fourth with 12 power-play points.
Video: WPG@DAL: Laine steals puck and sets up Ehlers
"[Laine] can shoot the puck better or as well as [Matthews]," McGuire said. "His release point may not be as quick, but his shot is probably a little bit heavier. I don't think [Laine] is as well rounded as Auston in terms of knowing all three zones, but Auston Matthews has a chance to be a generational player, and I think he's well on his way to doing that. I'd say the same thing about Patrik Laine; it's obvious you can make the comparable."
Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting, hasn't been surprised by the immediate success of either player.
"We knew the mental strength they had entering the draft; we knew they could handle adversity and the pressure and I feel they actually thrive on it," Marr said. "Not everybody at 18 or 19 years old develops that way so the fact they're doing it is not surprising. They each hit dry spells this year but the thing is they were still getting chances, working, skating and things were happening."
Matthews and Laine were the only rookies to play in the 2017 Honda NHL All-Star Game in Los Angeles.
Matthews had a goal and played a game-high 8:16 in the Atlantic Division's 10-6 loss in the semifinal round to the eventual champion Metropolitan Division. In the 2017 Coors Light NHL All-Star Skills Competition, he hit four targets in five shots with the second-best time of 12:28 in the DraftKings NHL Accuracy Shooting. Crosby finished first, hitting the four targets in 10.73 seconds.
Laine had one shot in 5:19 of ice time for the Central Division in a 10-3 loss against the Pacific Division in the semifinal.
Video: WPG@CHI: Laine buries one-timer on the power play
In the skills competition, he clocked 101.7 mph in the Oscar Mayer NHL Hardest Shot event to finish second only to three-time champion Shea Weber (102.8 mph) of the Nashville Predators. Weber and Laine were the only two to break 100 mph.
"Maybe in a couple years I'll try and get some more muscle so I can beat [Weber]," Laine said. "I think that was the best I have right now. I have to practice some more."
(Games through Feb. 5)
Shots on goal: 172
Avg. ice time: 17:39
*Goals created per game: 0.36
Points per 60 minutes (all situations): 2.86
Shots on goal: 126
Avg. ice time: 18:17
*Goals created per game: 0.38
Points per 60 minutes (all situations): 3.00
*- information courtesy Hockey-reference.com