Stop Worrying and Learn to Love Auston Matthews

It’s been nearly a month and a half until the draft lottery and we’re two Fridays away from the Toronto Maple Leafs stepping up to the podium. Since then, rather than be happy with the fact that the Leafs were blessed via lottery ball into acquiring one of the best draft-eligible prospects of this generation, fans and media have done everything in their power to talk about alternatives. Look at the latest trade rumour, from Boston writer Jimmy Murphy, for example:

First off, after the past two years of convincing even the most casual of fans to buy into a crash-and-burn rebuild, and getting their hopes up with the excitement of the first overall pick, there isn’t a way in hell that the Leafs are trading it. Emotions shouldn’t get the better of you in a hockey situation, but playing home games in Ottawa and Buffalo after the ACC is burnt down by frustrated fans with stereotypical names from various 905 suburbs is probably not good hockey strategy either.

As well, the Coyotes are littered with reasonably smart management. I don’t know enough about John Chayka to declare him the saviour of hockey, age/role combination be damned. But the Coyotes were already reasonably on their way to building a reasonably good young core before him, and as the team plots its moves back into the city, it seems like the days of financial turmoil are coming to a close. Dave Tippett has always been one of the smarter old-school minds as well. If nothing else, we’re talking about a competent team that has slowly vanishing budget constraints.

While I’m sure they would’ve liked some lottery love, I don’t think they’re the type of team that would take the risk of selling the entire farm and circling their build back by another couple of years in hopes that a local kid could sell more tickets. Staying bad would be much more damaging in the short term, and while they’d likely come out ahead long term from a hockey standpoint by having Matthews, it’s an assumed risk in a lot of ways.

While I think that Murphy is being led on by somebody trying to paint a very different portrait of the Coyotes than sensible reality (he’s also reporting that they’re interested in taking the $7.5 million Pavel Datsyuk plunge, despite Arizona being only $18 million from the floor with 18 players up for new contracts), an offer like this makes sense from their part. Mostly because it’s not a good one.

Domi or Dvorak would be emotional acquisitions for the Leafs, acquired for their “chemistry” with Mitch Marner in London or because of Max’s father. Both are very good prospects, but neither are projected to be game-breakers and would likely be supporting core forwards; a label that a lot of Leafs forwards already have attached to them, even if their likeliness and maximum upside might not be quite as high. From there, it becomes a matter of the picks. Let’s take a look at every 1st, 7th (Arizona’s position) and 20th (Arizona’s other first via NYR) overall pick in the Cap Era.

Pick 1 Pick 7 Pick 20
2015 Connor McDavid Ivan Provorov Joel Ek-Eriksson
2014 Aaron Ekblad Haydn Fleury Nick Schmaltz
2013 Nathan MacKinnon Darnell Nurse Anthony Mantha
2012 Nail Yakupov Matthew Dumba Scott Laughton
2011 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Mark Scheifele Connor Murphy
2010 Taylor Hall Jeff Skinner Beau Bennett
2009 John Tavares Nazem Kadri Jacob Josefson
2008 Steven Stamkos Colin Wilson Michael Del Zotto
2007 Patrick Kane Jakub Voracek Angelo Esposito
2006 Erik Johnson Kyle Okposo David Fischer
2005 Sidney Crosby Jack Skille Kenndal McArdle

Modern analysts have increasingly moved to the belief that the value of first round picks after the first few has been inflated over the years, and that lower round selections might be a little undervalued. This doesn’t speak to the latter, but it might speak a little to the former. In every nearly every scenario (lol Erik Johnson), the scale is clearly tilted to the top pick.

But what if scouts are just bad, you might ask? The Leafs have good scouts. Could they catch up? With that considered, I used hindsight to pick the best of the Top 3 at 1, the best of 7-10 at 7, and the best of 20-25 at 20. 

Hindsight 1 Hindsight 7 Hindsight 20
2015 Connor McDavid Mikko Rantanen Brock Boeser
2014 Aaron Ekblad William Nylander David Pastrnak
2013 Nathan MacKinnon Rasmus Ristolainen Andre Burakovsky
2012 Alex Galchenyuk Jacob Trouba Olli Maatta
2011 Gabriel Landeskog Sean Couturier Connor Murphy
2010 Taylor Hall Jeff Skinner Riley Sheahan
2009 John Tavares Nazem Kadri Marcus Johansson
2008 Steven Stamkos Mikkel Boedker Jordan Eberle
2007 Patrick Kane Jakub Voracek Max Pacioretty
2006 Jonathan Toews Kyle Okposo Claude Giroux
2005 Sidney Crosby Devin Setoguchi Tuukka Rask

You could make some vaguely convincing arguments for a couple years, but 2012 appears to be the only “no-shit” year to trade down. Even still, more of that might come from Montreal’s misuse of Galchenyuk than anything.

Of course, this rumour has created a lot of chatter, and a lot of fans are either on board or are talking about counter-offers and scenarios when they could trade down. But this is also the same fanbase that as a group of people talking about drafting Patrik Laine instead, or fearing that in “typical Toronto fashion”, Matthews will fail to meet expectations.

I understand that it’s been a rough few m..y..decades to be a fan of the Leafs. Nothing has ever really gone to plan, but a lot of that stems from the fact that there’s never been a cohesive and coherent message starting from the ice to the board room to the board of directors. The Leafs may have had some low-odds failures, but they also set themselves up for failure often over the years through being bad at their jobs.

The team has benefited from beginning its first full-thought rebuild at exactly the right time, with outside staff moving on in the midst of the moment and finding a team with infinite resources looking to bring them into the fold. That’s a bit lucky, but more than anything, Toronto is now using a blend of resources and brain trust to put together a situation that makes targets and goals more achievable than ever.

Auston Matthews is one of the best prospects to be draft eligible in a very long time. Sure, he’s no Connor McDavid, but neither is anybody that’s been in the draft other than Lemieux, Lindros, and Crosby. All signs point to Matthews being exactly what Toronto has craved for years; a hard working, dynamic offensive centre who always knows where to be on the ice. 

Some will tell you this is a two-horse race, but victory laps for the top guy in May and June are boring and bad for ratings. 

Some will tell you that trading him for a million assets makes more sense; that’s great until the Leafs end up with too many players under contract and none of them are elite forwards below legal drinking age.

Some will tell you that this is the Leafs and that things are going too right for things to not eventually go wrong. This organization and this city has had this mentality for my entire life, and all it’s led to is panic decisions in an attempt to avoid the very thing they skate themselves into.

Like Lamoriello, Babcock, and most of the transactions the team has made in the past year and change, this opportunity fell into Toronto’s lap not because they’re being set up for failure, but because they sat in the path of opportunity. The draft is in two weeks. Auston Matthews is going to put on a Leafs jersey. Stop worrying about what could go wrong and remind yourself about why it’s all going right.

  • Brent Wisken

    Leafs’ management would be playing with fire if they traded the 1st overall pick – most fans’ patience for the rebuild would suddenly evaporate. The 1st overall pick doesn’t come around often, nor does the fans’ generous patience which the team’s management has so benefited from.

  • Brent Wisken

    The only way I would be ok with trading the pick is if I get Strome, Dvorak, Domi, Auclair, OEL, and both picks. Then Arizona would need to take on Lupul, Robidas, Nathan Horton, and Johnathan Bernier. Lastly I want their next years 1st round pick because I just took pretty much there whole team and so I would like their lottery chances for next year.

      • Brent Wisken

        I like how you use admin powers to out my location on the Internet. It’s unethical but what ever. I really don’t care that much. However saying Austin Mathews isn’t the number one pick is the truth. You are falling for the same thing Edmonton did with Yak. The better pick was the number 2 pick plus great players who will be better than Yak in that draft. Mathews is good but Laine is the true number one in this draft. Same talent level plus h has size down the middle JVR 2.0. Go ahead and give him to Winnepeg.

        • Brent Wisken

          dude….matthews is legitimately only 4cm shorter than him. and tell me how a winger brings size down the middle? does a centre not do that? also, we own the original JVR and i would rather give him a number one centre. you are painfully misinformed

    • nobonusfornonus

      I’ve only seen two guys move their feet recently in that fast lay em down chop chop style of acceleration and the other guy is named McDavid. These two are get out of my players who are special and Mathews just looks so so Leafian.. c’mon you know what I mean:0

      • Gary Empey

        Really I never said he wasn’t going to be a good player. There are just two players better in my opinion and he could drop as low as 5 with team needs. If Winnipeg was given this pick I believe they would make an argument for Laine as well. Most Jets fans are excited that you guys are taking Mathews so they get Laine. If saying my opinion that is different then yours is dickish that’s your issue not mine.

        • CMpuck

          I get, this is a pretty closed minded environment when you don’t parrot general consensus.

          But that aside, Winnipeg happy to get Laine over Matthews? Look a Winnipeg’s lineup, it looks pretty good on paper except for that gaping hole a center.

          Winnipeg even dumped a 30 goal winger this year in Ladd, wants Laine going to do in his prime? Put up 40? But he doesn’t have a 200 foot game and Winnipeg will still get eaten alive because Little and Scheifele expose them against every team with an elite center, it’s why they can’t sustain any success in the West, Laine won’t change that, he produce some cute highlight goals though. Like Nash in Columbus or Bure in Florida, some GMs actually rather get a piece you can win with.

  • FlareKnight

    Yeah, I’m pretty tired off the dumb trade rumors and speculation about taking someone not named Matthews.

    I get it, the draft lotto win was finally a chance for media and others to make up theories and get Leafs nation pulled in. Get your hits, get your videos watched, etc. Because this matters. This really matters for the team.

    But yeah, while the speculation has stuck a bit I haven’t changed my mind on what the Leafs should do or what they will do.

    I don’t care if Arizona wants that pick. They aren’t getting it. They won’t offer what they’d have to, which would be a ridiculous haul. Thus there’s no point in the rumors there. Arizona and Toronto aren’t run by idiots.

    So, let’s get to the draft, draft Matthews and see who else we end up picking up.

    • Mitch92

      Sorry, I am not drinking the Matthews koolaid. In my estimation the rumored return of picks #7 and #20 along with Domi and Dvorak is enticing although we can all agree that it is not enough at this point. That’s ok because this information leak is a preliminary offer designed to feel out the trading landscape. What is important here is that the rumor did not suggest that the Leafs were not open to the possibility. There is lots of time to hammer out a deal that is more beneficial to the Leafs in the long run. The Leafs would be wise to demand Strome in the deal if they are giving up Matthews. They should also demand a first round pick in 2017 and send back Lupul and or Robidas. We could also ask for Zybnek Michalek to shore up our defense and add another veteran presence.

      What the Leafs should do is start negotiating with Winnipeg and Columbus to acquire one of the other top three picks. If they can acquire one of those picks then they would have more choices. They could tell Arizona that they will not trade the top pick for a package that does not include the second or third pick overall. If Arizona can acquire one of those picks to include in a deal then we will talk Matthews with them. If the Leafs happen to be able to acquire one of the other top picks they could simply use the picks on Laine and Puljujärvi. It might be more beneficial to deal with Arizona at that point.

      Regardless of what deals they make the end goal is to come out of this draft with another stable of high end young players who are going to grow and develop into champions for the Leafs. I like the Finns because they have been doing an awful lot of winning lately along with the fact that they are big, smart, dynamic big game players who seem to feed off each other.

      • Trevor5555

        It’s comes down to would u rather a Crosby or Ovechkin? As u can see true elite #1 C win championships and dime a dozen scoring Forwards don’t. Leafs don’t need another scoring winger. We already have a bunch. So we will gladly take Matthews no questions asked. Haters gonna hate so hate on and watch from the side lines how good the leafs will be in 3 yrs.

  • Oilers Rule

    Hard to say he’s a true number one when he hasn’t played against the top CHL draft eligible candidates? Definitely risk involved this year in picking him first when you have no other basis other than relying on an apples-to-oranges comparison, unlike last year when McDavid was chosen out of the OHL.

    While he looks like a great prospect, you just can’t be sure and its a roll of the dice if he becomes a true star or not. Laine looks like the real deal, but again you have similar concerns, just like with Eichel last year who turned out ok. However, it will take a year or two, perhaps more, until we see if he and Eichel can or can’t develop into true star players in the NHL, or just pretty good players and if they were worthy of their draft position in their respective drafts.

    I believe Leaf management are too smart not to listen and explore all options available to them in doing the best thing for the Leafs. If it was a slam dunk he was destined to go first, we would have seen a public indication from the Leafs brass after the draft lottery as was the case in years when McDavid, Crosby, etc. were the projected number one pick and management of those teams screamed form the rooftops to their fans who they were drafting.

    • magesticRAGE

      You gotta be joking. Why test yourself against junior player when you can compete against men, and score over a point/game. Still, he was a stud playing against the best junior players in the world, lands the NLA scoring title, competes and scores 9 points in 10 games in the World Championship (without being drafted yet!), and has already received an invitation to the World Cup of Hockey. That is what I call a resume.

      • FlareKnight

        Think it’s just best to presume trolling there.

        No one could seriously argue that in his position without joking. Playing in a men’s league and doing extremely well. The quality of competition isn’t even close.

        Has well proven himself against far tougher competition than the guys who played in junior this year.

        Not much longer to wait…just have to stay patient.

    • nobonusfornonus

      Don’t be a jerk. all thiry GM’s would kill to get the kid. Imagine Winnipeg if the Leafs took someone else and Mathews fell to them. Booyah… they’d burn down the town in celebration. Oh, a prediction. Laine won’t last. That lanky herky jerky style is destined for injury. I hope it doesn’t happen but his centre of gravity is too high.

  • Oilers Rule

    It freightens me how many misinformed, and confidently ignorant people have posted about… People stating that Laine is a Centre? – he is a winger … Others stating that Matthews would have been better off “challenging” himself against boys not men by playing in CHL not overseas in men’s professional league. – he was able to score over a point a game against grown men, the CHL wouldn’t have been challenging enough for him.

    Now, also People have mentioned that other teams have announced who they are picking no.1 overall directly after the draft??? Simply not true. Why do this and take away your flexibility and remain open to all opportunities?? The only team to announce whom they were taking no.1 prior to the draft in recent history was Colorado, when they announced they’d be selecting Nathan Mackinnon.

    Bottom line, Matthews is the real deal – leafs fans need to take a deep breath and understand that finally something great has come their way because of solid, consistent, and patient mangement.


  • magesticRAGE

    Our rebuild includes players that are team-first-guys with good character, strong work ethic, desire to improve and win, and off ice maturity. Mr Matthews has all of these traits plus size and an abundance of skill. He’s our guy. In Lou I trust.

  • magesticRAGE

    Sorry it was late and I said up the middle instead of up front. Here is the facts I agree with you guys on both Laine, and Mathews took the better road playing against men and ex NHL players in Europe. It added to their game. Laine I still believe is the best forward in the draft. Not once did I say Mathews isn’t a great pick. I had him as a top 5 depending on team needs he could drop to 5th. However the fans will abandon the rebuild now if you don’t take him. I’m not alone when I say Laine is better and many scouts agree with me. He led the Finnish playoffs with shots and was MVP of the playoffs. If Toronto doesn’t open up to the fact Laine could go number 1 you may be outraged come draft day.

    Now sinc it’s me posting this I’ll add the first trash for you all for the comment.

    • Oilers Rule

      Matthews shattered all the USNDT records which is a pretty good indication he’ll be the best American player in years.Also, there’s no possible scenario where Matthews falls below Puljarvi, Tkachuk and Dubois to 5th lol. He is one of the most complete number 1 prospects in recent memory and has the size to go with it. The only point I can agree with you on is that Laine may have the higher ceiling. Leafs fans are too quick to write off Laine. I’m sorry, but his slew of clutch performanceso this year put him in the number 1 conversation. This guy’s could be a generational goal scorer.

      • Gary Empey

        I gave you a props as you are the first one to acually bring a argument to me. I agree he may be the best American player since Parick Kane in the draft as well. I know he wouldn’t drop to 5th but it is possible depending on interviews and what not. Also like I said he may wish to jump ship as Toronto fans and media can be brutal when players hit cold streaks or what not. Like I have said time and time again. I see him as the 3rd best in this draft if you look at the long term of th players. However he is NHL ready and can slide into a top 6 line up next season.

  • DSP

    What if – and I’m not saying to do this – I’m of a mind to keep the pick – but what if….

    Most have said that in order to trade the right to draft Matthews would have to start with OEL on the block and Arizona won’t do that. But what if you expand this into a hockey trade, and make some of the assets Arizona sends your way upgrades rather than outright assests?

    IE what if Arizona sends Strome, their two firsts, and trades you OEL for Gardiner, and sends you Domi and Dvorak for Kapanen, Bracco…. maybe we toss in an 3rd rounder

    You lose the almost generational centre but get two centres back, we upgrade at defence – it’s easier to draft a replacement for Gardiner than to get an OEL. Bracco may make it into the league, but Domi has. Kapanen may become a star, but so may Dvorak and again Dvorak is a centre.

    This then puts you in a position to make a play for one of the other higher picks – trading up from 7 is easier – maybe you get Tkachuk and reunite that London Knights line.

    • Oilers Rule

      How is he already a Gerational center? He is no McDavid and he is no Crosby. Untested and already set up for failure to your over the top expectations. He is good but don’t expect him to be Crosby when he walks into the league. Arizona would do better bye waiting a few years to grab him on the cheap after the Toronto fans destroy him for not scoring 90 goals in his rookie season.

      • magesticRAGE

        Obviously reading is not your best skill. The “almost generational” centre – was not declaring him generational but was an allusion to the fact that some people here consider him almost that, and argue against trading him based on that point.

        • FlareKnight

          You really didn’t explain yourself that well. You should have had that in quotations from the start to have the point proved, however to trade the pick is really not a great move. Mathews is the better grab from what you are saying let’s take.

  • Brent Wisken

    If I recall correctly, and based on my understanding, last year the Leafs’ management weren’t too keen on Strome and would have passed on him if he was available to them in the draft. Given this, all trade suggestions involving Strome to the Leafs would likely be unappealing for Leafs’ management.

  • Mitch92

    At the end of the day, Toronto is not going to give up a chance at a talented young center when they’ve spent 10 years unsuccessfully looking for one. Matthews has a lot of things going for him both on and off the ice –there’s a reason beyond aquiring a home-grown player that Arizona wants him so badly. Babcock and Hunter have spent a lot of time watching this kid and a stong World Cup performance for both Matthews and Laine doesn’t change a thing. There have been a lot of mistakes made when judging a player by their strength in single International tournaments. Biggs comes to mind. I don’t think Toronto’s present brain trust is ready to repeat mistakes of others in the past.

  • CMpuck

    He leads the scoring at the world u18 2015 as a 16-year old and wins silver, leads the world u20 in scoring as a 17-year old and wins gold, leads his country’s elite men league in scoring in winning the playoffs and MVP, and leads the world championship in scoring as the only u18 player, and wins silver, MVP and best forward.

    no his name isn’t laine…
    it’s Patrick the Great,
    and it will be him who raises the Stanley Cup

  • Capt.Jay

    We had Sundin but no support. We had JVR, Kessel, and Lupul, who was a point per game guy, Bozak and Kadri but no franchise player.

    We never got where we needed because we never had all the pieces together at once.

    We have a chance now to grab the franchise player with a supporting cast already in place. (Nylander, Marner, Kadri, JVR, Komarov, and Bozak and a host of potential prospects) as forwards. Not a bad support cast for a franchise player to come into.

  • Gary Empey

    Lets face facts. The Leafs have neither a first line center or a second line center.

    Even if one considered Matthews and Laine of equal value in this years draft, then the obvious choice for the Leafs should be Matthews.

    I think it is dumb to run down Laine to make Matthews seem better. Both these guys are exceptional 18 year old players.

  • Trevor5555

    Matthews scored 24 G 46 Pts 36 GP
    Laine scored 17 G 33 Pts 46 GP

    Matthews has a much better scoring rate this year. Matthews plays a 200ft game and plays center. Matthews put up comparable numbers at world championships on a much weaker team. Very similar size players. Matthews was one of the top players tested at the scouting combine. Laine got hurt on VO2 max and had to drop out of a lot of testing. Matthews getting picked for team NA World Cup shows hockey people at the top of the food chain respect him as a player. I cant wait to see how he does against elite NHL talent. What a perfect pre-training camp warm up fot him. My only question is how well he adjusts to 82 games vs much better competition. Im not taking anything away from Laine, Matthews is just a bit better at everything and plays a more important position.