SAN JOSE, Calif. — Patrik Laine insists that he should be the first player selected at the upcoming NHL draft, but the explosive Finnish winger says there’s no animosity or awkwardness between him and consensus No. 1 pick Auston Matthews.
The star prospects visited the Stanley Cup Final Monday alongside a few other draft-eligible players in what’s become an annual tradition for the NHL.
“We’re friends,” Laine said of the star American centre. “We don’t have to talk about hockey and we know that we’re going to be good players in the NHL some day and we don’t have to compete in our free time.”
Still, Laine believes the Toronto Maple Leafs should make him the top pick despite a widely held belief that Matthews will go first in Buffalo.
“That’s always been my goal,” Laine said. “And after this season I think it’s really possible to go first.”
“I want to be No. 1 because I want to show everybody that I want to be the best player in this draft,” Laine added.
Laine is indeed coming off a strong season on many fronts.
Starring as a teenager for Finland’s silver-medal winning squad at the world championships last month, he tied for the tournament lead with seven goals and was fourth among all players with 12 points in 10 games.
He came up with 17 goals and 33 points in 46 games in the Finnish league regular season, also posting seven goals and 13 points for Finland at the world junior championships, held on home turf in Helsinki.
Laine is the flashier, more explosive of the two top prospects, an exciting goal-scorer capable of wowing a crowd. Matthews has the size (six foot two, more than 200 pounds), skill and speed alluring to teams in search of a franchise centre.
Toronto, which parted ways with long-time No. 1 centre Mats Sundin after the 2007-08 season, is one of those teams and it’s believed that Matthews will indeed be their choice.
Laine said it was nice to have a player he could compete with, someone who could push him to greater heights. He wouldn’t go so far as to say that he’s better than Matthews.
“I think we’re quite even,” said Laine. “He’s better than me in some stuff and I’m better than him in some of the things. I wouldn’t say that one (or the other) is better. I think we’re quite even right now.”