Teammates what’s separating Matthews and Laine at worlds

Corey Perry on HC at Noon to discuss the sting of the Ducks game 7 loss, and the excitement to be named captain of Team Canada at the World Championships.

It was a day Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine found themselves on opposite benches playing for their respective countries at the world championship.

In terms of their situations within those teams, however, it was a game Monday in Russia that may have foreshadowed what they will be facing next season, with Matthews expected to be drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs and immediately thrust into an NHL role, and Laine likely to become a Winnipeg Jet with the second overall selection and put in that team’s lineup.

On an American team at the worlds very thin on NHL experience, the 18-year-old Matthews centred a line with Boston Bruins forward Frank Vatrano (39 NHL games) and Jordan Schroeder, a first round pick of Vancouver seven years ago who has played much more in the AHL than the NHL (107 games) since.

Vatrano did score a goal in the Americans’ 3-2 loss to the Finns, but he’s still establishing himself as a NHL regular. Matthews, meanwhile, will probably encounter similar situations next season with a rebuilding Leaf squad that really has one proven NHL scoring winger in James van Riemsdyk, who missed more than half of last season due to injury.

Mitch Marner is coming, the Leafs hope to sign free agent Jimmy Vesey, P.A. Parenteau may be re-signed and Toronto will try to add forward talent over the summer. But Matthews almost certainly won’t have established NHL snipers on his wings, that seems certain.

Laine, by contrast, played today on a line with Florida centre Alexander Barkov, a burgeoning NHL star, and Panther teammate Jussi Jokinen, a veteran of 822 NHL games. Next year in Winnipeg, the 18-year-old left winger could easily end up skating on a line with either of Jet centres Mark Scheifele or Bryan Little, possibly with the likes of Blake Wheeler, Drew Stafford or Nik Ehlers on the other side.

The point is, the two teenage stars are headed to very different situations next season, just as their countries are likely headed for very different fates at these world championships. Neither, as expected, were dominant in today’s game, although Matthews picked up an assist on Vatrano’s goal by stealing the puck from Laine inside the U.S. blueline.

Laine was on the ice for Leo Komarov’s game-winning power play goal in the third, but was replaced by Antti Pihlstrom alongside Barkov and Jokinen in the final minutes as Finland sought to protect that lead.

Matthews, meanwhile, on a 1-2 U.S. team that has no players set to play for the United States in the World Cup next fall or even players vying for a spot, was very much on the ice in the concluding moments as the Americans tried to tie, and had a good scoring chance with 10 seconds left to play but couldn’t find the net.

For much of the game, Matthews and his linemates went up against Laine’s unit. The powerful skating and fine playmaking skills of Matthews were in evidence all game, while Laine, who had four goals in two games coming in, was very dangerous in situations where he was able to set up at the left faceoff circle and fire his patented one-timers.

In other words, this wasn’t an eye-opener of a game. Both players pretty much showed themselves to be what we already know they are. Matthews, seven months older than Laine, has a more all-around game at this point, but even at the world championships level, Laine is clearly a shooter who understands how to position himself to get his shot off.

It’s worth wondering whether at some point U.S. coach John Hynes will try to get Matthews on a line with Detroit forward Dylan Larkin, who has been the No. 1 American centre so far at this tournament. Matthews could still be named to the World Cup 23-and-under team, which already has selected Larkin to play in September alongside players like Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and Nathan MacKinnon.

Laine hasn’t yet been named to the Finnish team for that competition. Finland is now 3-0 at the worlds and is vying to become the first country ever to win the world juniors, world under-18 championships and the worlds in one season.

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