We Should Be Just as Excited about Patrik Laine as We Are Auston Matthews

The top two picks in the 2016 draft faced each other for the fist time Wednesday night, with Laine winning round one. The Finnish sniper sparked a Jets comeback with his first career hat trick.

by Kyle Cantlon
Oct 20 2016, 6:53pm

The top picks of the 2016 draft. Photo by Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

Auston Matthews went first overall, but it was Patrick Laine who took their round-one showdown.

After going head-to-head on the draft floor last June, the top two picks in 2016 stuck with the theme of their early careers and somehow exceeded expectations in their first meeting on the ice.

While Matthews stole the show with a historic opening night, Laine took it back Wednesday with an electric performance in a stunning Jets victory.

The two teenage superstars took over early in the three-on-three overtime after the Leafs coughed up a 4-0 lead. Off a missed breakaway by Matthews, Laine flew down the wing and ripped home the game winner, completing the Jets' comeback and securing his first career hat trick. His third goal of the game also tied him for the NHL lead in goals with... Matthews, of course. Matthews had an assist and a team-high seven shots on goal in the loss.

Though it's early in the season, Matthews and Laine are already top-line players and minutes leaders on their respective clubs. They aren't just two of the best young players in the world, they are potentially two of the best in the game, period.

READ MORE: Auston Matthews Is Why Teams Tank

'Laine's better' chants echoed through the rafters at the MTS Centre, while many Leafs fans took to social media to remind Jets fans just how special Matthews was when he lit up Ottawa with a four-goal game in his NHL debut. Though fans yearn to stoke rivalries between individual players in team sports, this one is blossoming naturally before our eyes.

Both have made the transition to the NHL seamlessly onto teams asking them to fulfill veteran roles as rookies. Although it's early, they are tied with three others for the league lead in goals, and figure to make the hunt for the Calder Trophy—awarded to the league's top rookie—a two-man race.

Laine celebrates after popping his third goal, which came with under a minute left in regulation. Photo by Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

Early dominance and an NHL goal-scoring lead is far from the only thing these two share. Forever linked by the 2016 draft, Laine and Matthews both took similar, unconventional paths to the league as top prospects that few before them have.

Abandoning the typical CHL and NCAA paths most young prospects travel en route to an NHL career, both played top-level pro with two of Europe's best programs the season before making the transition to the NHL. It's clear that playing in a top league with grown men has prepared these gifted athletes for what appears to be an almost effortless transition into the spotlight.

At 6'4" and 205 pounds, Laine put up 33 points in 46 games with Tappara Tampere in Finland's SM-liiga last season. Matthews, listed at 6'2" and 210 pounds, had over a point per game playing under former Stanley Cup winner Marc Crawford with Zurich of the Swiss-A league.

After a season of development in Finland and Switzerland and very strong showings at the World Championships and World Cup, neither the speed nor toughness of the NHL game has phased them. So far, if anything, they've thrived in it.

It's unclear whether future top prospects will follow in the same paths as Laine and Matthews, or continue to flock to CHL and NCAA programs that have pumped out the majority of draft picks over the last 40 years.

If the start of this season is any indication, though, there will be a lot more hockey-playing teenagers applying for European Visas in the years to come.

Their first battle proved worthy of the hype. Now, we'll have to wait until Feb. 21 for round two of Laine-Matthews, when the Leafs host the Jets at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. Mark your calendars.

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