Would Toronto Trade Auston Matthews???
Listening to the Toronto Maple Leafs management team, there is a sense of pride and contentment with regards to their current stable of prospects and what the team may be able to acquire during the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
As the NHL’s last place club, the Maple Leafs have secured a 20 percent chance of landing the first overall pick. Simple math tells us that the Maple Leafs’ also have an 80 percent chance of missing out on the coveted first overall pick.
Of course, having finished last in the NHL means the Maple Leafs can do no worse than a top-four pick in the upcoming NHL Draft. The top three prospects are American-born centre Auston Matthews and Finnish wingers Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi, with the fourth ranked prospect often differing depending on which mock draft you read.
Should the Maple Leafs win the Draft Lottery, there will be little debate about which player they will draft. Few (if any) of the “experts” have anyone but Auston Matthews slotted in as this summer’s number one pick at the NHL Entry Draft and it stands to reason the Maple Leafs do too.
Rumours have been circulating for a number of weeks that, should the Arizona Coyotes miss out on the top pick, that they would look to make a deal to move up in the draft. Of course, the goal would be to land Matthews. Why? Obviously, Matthews is regarded as a generational talent, so he would be a tremendous addition to any NHL club. Just as importantly, beyond his many talents on the ice, Matthews carries a certain amount of cache and celebrity status and he was born and raised in Arizona.
Adding Mathews to the Coyotes organization would give the Coyotes another stellar piece to their already stacked prospect pool while also giving them a local hero/player that they could market around and hopefully build more interest from local fans.
If we believe the rumours, the Coyotes are said to be dangling 24-year old defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (drafted sixth overall by the Coyotes in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft) and their 2016 first round pick (draft ranking yet to be determined) to any team willing to give up the first overall pick.
As great as Matthews projects to be, adding an All-Star talent like Ekman-Larsson AND another great player via the draft has to be an enticing offer to consider for any NHL club.
How good is Ekman-Larsson? Well, he finished this season with 21 goals and 55 points, good enough for seventh overall amongst NHL defensemen, ahead of the likes of Drew Doughty, P.K. Subban, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. Ekman-Larsson logs huge minutes (24:46 per game- 16th overall amongst defensemen), can anchor your power play (he had 12 power play goals this season) and he is not afraid to get physical on occasion. Ekman-Larsson also had eight game winning goals, which led all NHL defensemen. Essentially, he is a franchise defenseman, capable of playing at an elite level for another 10 years.
That’s a pretty nice return for the likes of Matthews. Take into consideration that you will likely also land a top-five pick in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft and this offer will certainly give NHL GM’s something to think about. While the addition of Ekman-Larsson would be very enticing for the Maple Leafs, Toronto’s biggest need is down the middle, so parting with the likes of Matthews may prove to be too difficult to swallow, even with the addition of Ekman-Larsson to the mix.
As great as Ekman-Larsson may be (and he is great), if the Maple Leafs were to consider trading the right to draft Matthews to Arizona, the only way I could see them even remotely considering the move is if the return from Arizona included highly touted centre, Dylan Strome.
Selected with the third overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by the Arizona Coyotes, Strome is widely considered to be the best prospect in all of hockey. (see The Hockey News’ 2016 Top Prospect Rankings).
Playing with the Erie Otters, Strome led the Ontario Hockey League in scoring in 2014-15 with 129 points (45G, 84A, 129PTS.). He followed that up with a very strong campaign this season, scoring 37 goals, 74 assists for a total of 111 points.
Mike Morreale of NHL.com calls Strome, “A big, strong skater with the agility, reach and pedigree that NHL scouts crave.” Others point to Strome’s leadership skills and ability to create offense.
Needless to say, there are many experts within the NHL that agree with Morreale’s assessment of Strome being a very strong prospect, capable of leading an NHL team and quite possibly evolving into a very solid number one centre.
Is Strome a “generational talent?” Probably not, but he should be able to hold his own in the NHL and should not look out of place as a top-tier number one centre down the road.
Like Strome, Matthews is felt to be an excellent prospect. In fact, many feel he will live up to his “generational talent” label.
Playing for Zurich in the Swiss-A League this season, Matthews led all players with 24 goals, while finishing second in League scoring with 48 points in 36 games played.
Few, if any of us, have watched Matthews play in Zurich, but that hasn’t stopped anyone from proclaiming Matthews as the next big player to hit the NHL since Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel hit the NHL last season.
When comparing Matthews to the likes of McDavid and Eichel, many experts believe Matthews would fit right between them. Matthews is not seen to be as good as McDavid, but many believe he is a step ahead of Eichel. Any way you slice it, that is high praise.
Want more? Former NHL coach Marc Crawford (who coached Matthews with Zurich) calls him the “best player in our league.” Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News said of Matthews “He’s got size, smarts and great offensive production.” In fact, you would be hard pressed to find any talent analysis on Matthews that does not project him to be a dominant player at the NHL level.
While Matthews may be ahead of Strome in terms of overall talent, the gap is not as big as many think and, with the addition of another solid pick via the 2016 NHL Entry Draft (seemingly a top-five pick), the Maple Leafs should be able to make up for the loss of Matthews with the addition of significant depth.
Should the Maple Leafs and Coyotes pull the trigger on this deal, the Maple Leafs would be looking at a future top-six that may include the likes of Strome, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Nikita Soshnikov, James van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri and one of Patrik Laine, Jesse Puljujarvi or Matthew Tkachuk (depending on which player they can land at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft).
That’s a pretty dangerous lineup for a team that looked like it was going to endure another 50 years of losing a few short years ago.
If the Maple Leafs were offered Ekman-Larsson, Strome and the Coyotes pick for Matthews, Lou Lamoriello would be crazy to pass on the deal, wouldn’t he? Personally, I would stand pat, take Matthews and watch him take a shot at becoming the best player in Maple Leaf history (it could happen).
Would you make that deal? What would you want in return from the Coyotes for Matthews?????