What if the Toronto Maple Leafs drafted Patrik Laine over Auston Matthews?
After Laine scored the game-winning goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs last night, I started reliving the 2016 NHL Entry Draft and the what-if’s surrounding that night.
By all accounts, the Leafs were always going to draft Auston Matthews first overall that night. However, there was some debate about selecting the 6-foot-5, 215 pound left-winger that had been compared to Alex Ovechkin.
Laine was a Finnish sniper, with an unbelievable release. Not only that, but his size was an appealing factor as there are not too many players with that height that have been so offensively gifted. If he used his size correctly, Laine was projected to be a tough power-forward, who score 50 goals in his sleep.
He wasn’t going to be as intimidating as someone like Eric Lindros, but maybe he could be 90 percent of what Ovechkin was, which is why he was eventually drafted second overall.
What if the Toronto Maple Leafs Drafted Laine?
The Leafs had been without a legit number-one centre since Mats Sundin, so bypassing Auston Matthews was probably never going to happen. But, what if the Toronto Maple Leafs went with the left-winger instead?
Toronto’s young core would have been: Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Patrik Laine.
Instead of having a future All-Star centre in Matthews, the team would be loaded on the wing, with Laine on the left-side and Nylander and Marner on the right. Heading into their rookie campaigns, the lines would look something like this:
- Patrik Laine – Nazem Kadri – William Nylander
- James van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Mitch Marner
- Zach Hyman – Frederik Gauthier – Connor Brown
- Matt Martin – Brian Boyle (Traded mid-season) – Kasperi Kapanen
The top two line’s are still good, but Kadri and Bozak as your top-two’s centres are an issue.
Without Matthews, that roster probably doesn’t make the playoffs, but that isn’t a terrible thing. That season was magical as the team squeaked into the playoffs at the very end, but being apart of the NHL Draft Lottery could have helped their future.
Who knows where they would have actually picked, but instead of drafting Timothy Liljegren 17th overall, they could have got lucky and selected Nick Suzuki (13th overall), Elias Pettersson (5th overall) or even Cale Makar (4th overall).
Without Matthews in the 2017-18 season, the team once again would have been a fringe playoff team because of their centre-depth, but by the 2018-19 campaign, the team could have actually been better off.
When John Tavares signs a $11M monster contract, it essentially pushes Nazem Kadri out the door. However, if Toronto drafts Laine over Matthews, the Leafs can sign Tavares, keep Kadri and save roughly $5M against the salary cap.
Toronto’s top-two line’s could look something like this:
- Patrik Laine – John Tavares – Mitch Marner
- Zach Hyman – Nazem Kadri – William Nylander
That top-six is fantastic and would definitely be a playoff-contender. However, they’d still be missing a generational talent in Matthews. Laine would score a ton of goals on that line, but he wouldn’t be as defensively responsible as Matthews is.
As Laine was lighting up the NHL with goals, Matthews would probably be in Winnipeg doing the same thing for the Jets, but instead of losing in the first round, he could be helping them win a Stanley Cup.
The Jets had a great blue-line, solid skill up-front and a number-one goaltender from 2017-2019 and could have used another magical centre like Matthews, instead of Laine.
Paul Maurice would have loved coaching him and the city of Winnipeg would be a power-house NHL market.
However, at the end of the day, regardless of whether or not the Leafs drafted Matthews or Laine, from a Toronto Maple Leafs perspective, the team would probably be in the same spot they are today.
Six years removed from the 2016 NHL Entry Draft and still without a playoff round victory.