The first and second overall picks from the 2016 NHL Draft face off for the first time Wednesday.
Toronto’s Auston Matthews and Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine are trying to not make too big of a deal out of their meeting, downplaying any kind of budding “rivalry.” But the fact remains that Laine made a strong late charge at the top draft spot last season and is out to prove in his career that he should have been No. 1.
It’s for that reason — and perhaps that the two are on Canadian teams — this is seen as a budding rivalry. Not every 1-2 draft pick combos will be a rivalry. For instance, Jack Eichel vs. Connor McDavid hasn’t been much of a head-to-head comparison, because that 2015 selection was never close. They’re just two very talented players who will be starring in this league for years to come.
The Matthews-Laine matchup got us thinking: what are some of the best player vs. player rivalries in the NHL today?
SIDNEY CROSBY vs. ALEX OVECHKIN
The marquee player rivalry in the league, Crosby and Ovechkin were picked No. 1 overall in consecutive drafts but have been at the centre of attention since they both entered the NHL in 2005-06.
Ovechkin has the individual awards, with six Rocket Richard Trophies, a Calder Trophy, an Art Ross and three Hart Trophies as league MVP. But Ovechkin falls behind Crosby in team achievements.
Crosby has two Stanley Cups, two Olympic golds, and a World Cup gold, plus a Conn Smythe Trophy. He’s been there in the big moments too, with the OT winner in the 2010 Olympic gold medal game being the highlight of his career so far.
One of the most memorable head-to-head moments between these two came in 2009 when the Penguins and Capitals met in the playoffs. In Game 2 of that series, both players notched hat tricks as the Caps won 4-3. Ovechkin’s team may have won that game, but Crosby’s team won the series in seven en route to a Stanley Cup championship.
The two met for a second time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last spring, where Crosby’s Penguins again came out on top in six games. You have to figure that, at some point, the worm will turn in Ovechkin’s favour and he’ll win a Cup, or a gold. Right?
TYLER SEGUIN vs. PHIL KESSEL
OK, so in no way is this a blood rivalry — it’s more tongue-in-cheek, and one even players have had fun with.
This one originated with the infamous Boston-Toronto trade that saw the Leafs sent two first-round draft picks and a second-rounder to the Bruins for budding 21-year-old Kessel. Little did Leafs GM Brian Burke know that one of those firsts would turn into Seguin.
A season after the trade, Seguin and Kessel faced off for the first time in Boston and when Seguin scored, the crowd chanted loudly and proudly: “Thank You Kessel.”
Seguin lasted three years in Boston before he was shipped to Dallas, where he really broke out as a superstar, while Kessel played six mostly under-appreciated seasons for subpar Maple Leafs teams. Eventually, both players got selected to the All-Star Game and, thankfully, the league format for selecting teams at the time was a player draft.
Kessel and Seguin were picked on opposite teams and then, of course, were traded for each other.
Today, Seguin is an Art Ross contender, while Kessel has settled in nicely as a secondary goal scorer for the Pittsburgh Penguins. They have both won Stanley Cups, but Kessel has arguably become the more likeable character — the awkward underdog who you can’t help but pull for.
JONATHAN TOEWS vs. DAVID BACKES
With Backes signing in Boston this past summer, this rivalry may dissipate, but it was a doozy while we had it.
Backes’ Blues and Toews’ Blackhawks were two Western Conference powerhouses and both players served as captain for their teams. They’ve had a few direct run-ins with each other as well.
Toews has had six career NHL fights now and two of them have come against Backes. We’ve also seen Toews deliver a questionable high hit to Backes, in retaliation for Backes hitting Marian Hossa who was in an awkward position.
Here again we have a one-sided battle in terms of career achievements, with Toews winning three Stanley Cups and a couple of gold medals and Backes never reaching the Cup final with the Blues before departing for the Eastern Conference.
There have certainly been a bunch of great player vs. player rivalries over the years, but some have lapsed as players have switched conferences, meet each other less, and dull the hate.
Milan Lucic-Alexei Emelin comes to mind, as the two got into it over hip-checks, spears and when Lucic called Emelin a “chicken.” Lucic also had his famous handshake line kerfuffle with Dale Weise after the Habs ejected the Bruins from the playoffs. Ah, those were the days.
Think there is a player vs. player rivalry we missed? Let us know your favourite.