With a little under 30 games left to play in the regular season, a lot of fans already have their locks for the Calder trophy. In all fairness to Zach Werenski, Mitch Marner, Matthew Tkachuk, William Nylander, Matt Murray and Sebastian Aho; there is no doubt that either Patrik Laine or Auston Matthews will be awarded this trophy.
Let’s look at the numbers.
Laine currently has 52 points in 54 games played (0.96), 28 of them are goals. He scored eight of his goals on the powerplay and has notched 4 assists on the man-advantage. He also has five game winning goals, 149 shots and has an 18.8% shooting percentage while playing an average of 18:11 per game. In addition, Laine ranks 7th in multi-point games in the NHL. He has 5 multi-goal games and three hat tricks to go with it. The Finnish sensation is a pure sniper, his deadly release is already one of the best in the NHL, if not the best.
Matthews sits behind Laine with 49 points in 58 games played (0.84) and also has 28 goals. He has four powerplay goals and a total of 14 points on the PP. Furthermore, he has six game winning goals and 205 shots to go with a 13.7% shooting percentage. Matthews plays an average of 17:43 a game and has recorded 12 multi-point games this season, which include a hat trick, four multi-goal games and one game with three assists. #34 is extremely skilled and uses his body to shield the puck, he is more of a playmaker, but still has that scoring touch, here is an example:
Laine has a few more points in four less games played. They are both offensive threats at all times on the ice, but Laine slightly edges Matthews in that regard with his multi-point games and dominance in the offensive zone. However, don’t sell Matthews short, he is a possession monster at even-strength (52.49 CF% vs Laine’s 48.11%) and generates more scoring chances (53.2%) when compared to Laine (47%).
Many fans have also made the argument that Laine plays with Ehlers and Scheifele while Matthews usually plays with Connor Brown, Zach Hyman or William Nylander. It is fair to say that Laine benefits from playing with more talented players, but that also means he is going up against every teams’ top lines and defensive pairs. Matthews is Toronto’s #1, but isn’t always up against the best competition, as Mitch Marner is also a constant threat. Last season, when Artemi Panarin was tearing it up in his rookie season, many were saying his success came from Patrick Kane, yet he still won. Few people bring it up now, but if Shayne Gostisbehere didn’t win the Calder with his performance on a mediocre Flyers team, this argument shouldn’t be used against Patrik Laine for having good linemates.
Obviously, there isn’t much of a comparison to be made in terms of defensive play. Matthews plays a more difficult position than Laine and therefore has more defensive responsibility. That is why he tops the Finn in blocked shots and takeaways, while at the same time having less giveaways. Laine does bring more of a physical edge to his game, he has registered 58 hits this season versus Matthews’ 15.
As a center, Matthews is tasked with helping out the defensemen in the defensive zone and taking faceoffs. He is issued in many more battles along the boards than Laine and uses his size nicely to gain possession. The edge definitely goes to the Leafs rookie, simply due to the position his plays and the responsibility he has in his own end.
It is almost impossible to give the edge to either one at the moment, as they have both been outstanding. We have until the end of the season to watch them. However, the Calder trophy goes to the rookie who has been “the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League”, it doesn’t go to the most complete player. While Matthews has been better defensively, it’s not like he’s on a Bergeron level of play, yet he has still been better than Laine.
That being said, when was the last time a rookie scored 40 goals or more? In 2005-2006, when Alex Ovechkin scored 52 goals. To see an 18-year-old score 40 in a single season would be off the charts and would definitely be Calder-worthy.
When all is said and done, both players are exceptional and deserve recognition around the league. No matter who you’re a fan of, it’s going to be special watching these guys compete for the next decade.
By Brandon Murphy – @2murphy8