Patrik Laine 3

History is about to repeat itself at this summer's NHL Draft.

Every six years, as it goes, there has been a heated neck-and-neck race between the top two prospects to grab the coveted first-overall spot.

At the 2010 NHL Draft, it was the Taylor-Tyler derby (Hall-Seguin) which went right down to the wire.

Roll back six years prior to the Russian invasion of 2004 with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin - the '1A / 1B' year. 

The race of 1998 pitted QMJHL star Vincent Lecavalier against young American hotshot David Legwand whom, as an aside, I recall delivering a scorching performance down at the old St. Mike's Arena in `97 en route to a 54-goal, 105-point rookie season for the Plymouth Whalers. Lecavalier was the consensus choice that year, however Legwand's performance at least made it a race.

The phenomenon continues this year with two teenage sensations in Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine waging a fierce battle to reach the finish line ahead. The contest has been nothing short of breathtaking to watch this season as the pair have jockeyed back and forth at the top of the McKeen's ranking board.

Patrik Laine 3It could ultimately come down to a toss-up decision by the time June rolls around, with the best 'litmus test' being the World Senior Championships in May.

Auston Matthews has dazzled with Zurich of the Swiss NLA; his combination of elite hands and skating ability fully on display in what has turned out to be the 'ideal' platform for him. He can wheel and deal and pick apart a league which is light on physical play, full of open space, and all too accommodating.

It's not a knock against Matthews but instead a situation that may perhaps lead to developing some 'bad habits'. His defensive play and intensity away from the puck has been noticeable in between the sparkling moments. Like Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel this season, he will have to make certain adjustments upon arriving in the NHL next fall.

Matthews is a 'clear-cut' No. 1 pick is many circles, however the staff here at McKeen's feel that the rocket-like development of Patrik Laine this season has muddied the waters.

Laine made a number of new NHL believers playing recently in his international debut with the senior Finnish national team. "He was exceptional with the national team last week. Plays very well with good players," said one top NHL scout.

Upon watching Laine's masterful showing at the U20 World Juniors, another head scout suggested that Laine "reminded him of a young Mario."

Those fortunate enough to have experienced the NHL career of Magnificant Mario Lemieux will no doubt see certain similarities in the style of Laine. His ability to dangle the puck anywhere within his body range, front, back, and side - combined with an innate sense for where the puck can be protected - is a bit eerily reminiscent of Lemieux.

The following video - his first hat trick in the SM-liiga - is a small peek into Laine's incredible talents (#29/White): 

 

Another video featuring Laine's stickhandling wizardry : 

 

This year's race is much closer than it might seem - and we likely won't know the outcome until the Edmonton Oilers (cough!!) reach the podium in June and announce the No. 1 selection - again.

Let's hope not.

THE REST OF THE FIRST ROUND

Among the other participants in the field, Matthew Tkachuk (London), Pierre-Luc Dubois (Cape Breton) Clayton Keller (USA), and Luke Kunin (Wisconsin) were among the big movers on the list.

The composition of the top 26 players remained intact this month as there is a group of players clustered quite tightly in the 25-to-45 range, which projects for another intriguing second round this summer.

Three players debut in the top 30 this month, that being Everett goalie Carter Hart (No. 27), strong-skating Saint John blueliner Luke Green (29), and Kelowna rearguard Lucas Johansen holding down the final place - for now. Johansen, the younger brother of Nashville Predators' forward Ryan Johansen, is gradually winning over NHL scouts with his steady growth this season.

SO WHY ISN'T LOGAN STANLEY IN THE TOP 30?

From veteran OHL watchers to NHL scouts, not many are buying into the Logan Stanley hype that the towering Windsor defenceman is a sure-fire first-rounder. Undeniably, Stanley has made impressive strides this season, yet the scouts are wary of his skating and specifically his pivots, agility, and backwards mobility. (Check out OHL expert David Burstyn's scouting take on Stanley published earlier this week).

The evolution of NHL blueliners is not trending in his favour. As one NHL scout put it, "we need to be careful, there will never be a 'next Chara' - the game is changing."

McKeen's Chief of Draft Scouting Grant McCagg adds, "how are the mammoth first round d-men picked in the past few drafts doing? Oleksiak, Tinordi, McIlrath, Morin, Cowen... the evidence is piling."

Let's not forget there is still plenty of hockey to be played before the final lists are compiled in May. Plenty of opportunity for Stanley and other first-round hopefuls to entice NHL teams with a strong stretch run and playoff performance.

Final impressions count.

 

RANK PLAYER POS TEAM HT/WT DOB GP-G-A-PTS
1 Auston Matthews C ZSC Zurich (Sui) 6-1/195 17-Sep-97 36-24-22-46
2 Patrik Laine LW Tappara (Fin) 6-4/210 19-Apr-98 43-17-16-33
3 Jesse Puljujarvi RW Karpat Oulu (Fin) 6-4/205 7-May-98 49-12-15-27
4 Michael McLeod C Mississauga (OHL) 6-2/190 3-Feb-98 50-19-37-56
5 Olli Juolevi D London (OHL) 6-2/185 5-May-98 48-7-27-34
6 Matthew Tkachuk LW London (OHL) 6-1/195 11-Dec-97 48-23-70-93
7 Jakob Chychrun D Sarnia (OHL) 6-2/215 31-Mar-98 57-10-35-45
8 Alexander Nylander RW Mississauga (OHL) 6-0/180 2-Mar-98 52-28-46-72
9 Pierre-Luc Dubois LW Cape Breton (QMJHL) 6-2/200 24-Jun-98 57-37-50-87
10 Jake Bean D Calgary (WHL) 6-0/175 6-Sep-98 61-22-37-59
11 Mikhail Sergachev D Windsor (OHL) 6-2/205 25-Jun-98 59-14-33-47
12 Charles McAvoy D Boston University (HE) 6-0/205 21-Dec-97 32-3-16-19
13 Julien Gauthier RW Val d'Or (QMJHL) 6-3/225 15-Oct-97 46-40-13-53
14 Clayton Keller C NTDP (USA) 5-9/170 29-Jul-98 46-28-54-82
15 Tyson Jost C Penticton (BCHL) 5-11/190 14-Mar-98 48-42-62-104
16 Max Jones LW London (OHL) 6-3/205 17-Feb-98 54-22-20-42
17 Logan Brown C Windsor (OHL) 6-6/225 5-Mar-98 51-16-46-62
18 Kieffer Bellows LW NTDP (USA) 6-0/195 10-Jun-98 47-39-25-64
19 Luke Kunin C Wisconsin (B1G) 6-0/195 4-Dec-97 29-15-11-26
20 Riley Tufte LW Blaine (USHS-MN) 6-5/205 10-Apr-98 25-47-31-78
21 Libor Hajek D Saskatoon (WHL) 6-2/185 4-Feb-98 60-3-22-25
22 Dante Fabbro D Penticton (BCHL) 6-0/190 20-Jun-98 45-14-53-67
23 German Rubtsov C Team Russia U18 (Rus) 6-2/180 27-Jun-98 28-12-14-26
24 Tage Thompson C Connecticut (HE) 6-5/185 30-Oct-97 34-13-18-31
25 Rasmus Asplund C Farjestads (Swe) 5-11/175 3-Dec-97 43-4-8-12
26 Sam Steel C Regina (WHL) 5-11/180 3-Feb-98 64-22-42-64
27 Carter Hart G Everett (WHL) 6-0/180 13-Aug-98 34W, 2.12, .919
28 Carl Grundstrom RW MoDo (Swe) 6-0/195 1-Dec-97 46-7-9-16
29 Luke Green D Saint John (QMJHL) 6-0/190 12-Jan-98 53-9-23-32
30 Lucas Johansen D Kelowna (WHL) 6-1/175 16-Nov-97 60-9-32-41
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