Auston Matthews was one step ahead of Patrik Laine at the 2016 draft and kept that slim advantage in their spirited race to the stage at the 2017 NHL Awards, with the Toronto Maple Leafs forward accepting the Calder Memorial Trophy. Matthews looks to once again gain the jump on his adversary as he leads the Maple Leafs into Bell MTS Place to face Laine and the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday in the season opener for both teams.
The sophomore sensations each downplayed the perceived rivalry, saying the storyline is a convenient one contrived by the media as opposed to the combatants on the ice. “That (rivalry) is part of what you guys make things out to be,” said the 20-year-old Matthews, who set team highs with 40 goals and 69 points to remain slightly ahead of Laine’s club-best 36 tallies that went along with his 64 points. While Matthews will forever have the honor of being selected first overall in the 2016 NHL draft, Laine got the better in head-to-head encounters as the 19-year-old Finn completed a hat tick by scoring in overtime in a 5-4 win versus Toronto on Oct. 19 and tallied twice in a 5-4 overtime loss on Feb. 21. “I’ve only played two games against Toronto. Yeah, they were exciting games and they were tight games,” said Laine, who bested Matthews and all other rookies by recording 0.88 points per game.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, TVAS, Sportsnet
ABOUT THE MAPLE LEAFS (2016-17: 40-27-15, 4th in Atlantic Division): While Matthews enjoyed the brightest part of the spotlight, William Nylander (league rookie-high 26 power-play points) and Mitch Marner (NHL rookie-best 42 assists) also enjoyed significant success during their respective first seasons. Fellow forward James van Riemsdyk benefited from linemate Marner’s enthusiasm to record a career-high 62 points,while his 29 goals accounted for his second-highest output as a professional. Nazem Kadri also enjoyed a personal-best campaign in goals (32) and points (61) to help Toronto squeak into the playoffs and give Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington a run for its money in a spirited first-round series.
ABOUT THE JETS (2016-17: 40-35-7, 5th in Central Division): With Laine centering the top line, Mark Scheifele collected a team-high 82 points and averaged more than one (1.04) per game. Consistent Blake Wheeler is coming off his third straight 26-goal season while Nik Ehlers improved on an already strong rookie campaign with 64 points in his breakout sophomore season. Burly defenseman Dustin Byfuglien packs a punch both offensively and in front of his own net while offseason acquisition Steve Mason will look to put an up-and-down stint in Philadelphia in his rear-view mirror as he challenges Connor Hellebuyck for the No. 1 goaltending job.
1. Toronto converted an NHL second-best 23.8 percent of its power plays last season while Winnipeg had the league’s fifth-worst penalty kill at 77.5 percent.
2. The Jets yielded 3.1 goals per contest, which was fourth worst in the NHL.
3. Veteran C Patrick Marleau signed a three-year deal with Toronto in the offseason after spending his entire 19-year career with San Jose.
PREDICTION: Maple Leafs 5, Jets 2