The Maple Leafs claimed Round 1 this season 6-3, with forward William Nylander leading the charge and wrapping up a five-game point streak.
There are plenty of connections to make between these clubs: Both have leaned heavily on starting netminders (Frederik Andersen and Connor Hellebuyck are tied for the second-most starts this season league-wide, with 34) and both have been forced to test their depth throughout the lineup at points through the first half the season — and both survived, still in playoff contention at the halfway point of the season.
The most obvious comparison? Both teams landed a serious offensive weapon in the 2016 draft.
Ever since being drafted first and second overall, respectively, Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine have put up some incredible performances over the course their four seasons in the NHL — including against each other.
Matthews and Laine have gone head-to-head seven times, and put up some pretty solid numbers in those matchups. In seven games between the Maple Leafs and Jets with Matthews and Laine in the lineup, Matthews has one goal and eight assists for nine points while Laine has six goals and one assist for seven points. Between the two of them, just two games saw neither player register on the scoreboard — a pair of matchups on Oct. 24 and Oct. 27 of the 2018-19 season.
Overall, the Maple Leafs have the edge on the scoreboard, going 5-1-1 compared to Winnipeg’s 2-4-1.
When you look at their past meetings, Matthews and Laine’s best head-to-heads were actually their first two contests against one another, as the pair of dynamic rookies took turns putting on a show in 2016-17.
Their most anticipated meeting was their first, back in October 2016 — and it did not disappoint. In fact, it went pretty much exactly how writers would’ve scripted it: Matthews got on the board first, helping the Maple Leafs to a four-goal lead and also registering his first career NHL assist, with Laine leading the late surge and capping off his first career hat trick with the overtime winner for the 5-4 victory.
Laine’s third-period play prompted the home crowd in Winnipeg to chant “Laine’s better!” during the third period.
And here’s where the movie-like magic really shows: Laine’s game-winning goal came immediately after Matthews’ attempt was stopped by then-Jets goalie Michael Hutchinson. Remember this?
“I think it was just a normal regular-season game,” Laine told reporters with a laugh.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice summed it up perfectly post-game.
“Two great young players that are going to give their fans reasons to have nights like this over the course of the year, over the course of their careers, starting now,” he said. “We’ve just seen brilliance from both of them in the first four games of the season. Lucky for Winnipeg fans and lucky for Toronto fans we get to watch two great young players.”
While their first meeting set the tone, the second matchup followed through — and almost saw a repeat performance from Laine, who had an opportunity to complete another hat trick with another overtime winner against Toronto.
Only this time, it was Matthews’ turn to lead his club to victory in overtime with an assist on the game-tying goal in the third period followed by a helper to set up Jake Gardiner’s overtime winner. Matthews had three assists in the Maple Leafs’ 5-4 OT win, while Laine registered two goals — including his 30th of the season.
Career stats comparison
As it happened, Matthews and Laine would wind up finishing first and second among all rookies in goals and points that year, following their draft order and bringing two incredible first-year campaigns to a close.
When you compare their stats overall over the course of their young NHL tenures, their numbers are fairly similar: Matthews has registered 140 goals and 117 assists for 257 points in 256 games, compared to Laine’s 125 goals and 99 assists for 224 points in 278 games.
Laine has been more potent on the power play, posting 47 power-play goals compared to Matthews’ 33, while Matthews has the edge on game-winners with 21, versus Laine’s 16.