WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine will forever be linked as the top two selections in last spring's NHL draft, and the rivalry between the two — whether they like it or not — officially starts Wednesday night at the MTS Centre.
Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs visit the Winnipeg Jets for their first battle of the season. There is no question Matthews, an Arizona-born center, made the bigger splash thus far, albeit over a two-game body of work.
The 19-year-old scored a quartet of goals in his first NHL game, a 5-4 loss to the Ottawa Senators, becoming the first player in league history to accomplish such a feat. Laine followed up the next evening with a goal and an assist in a 5-4 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes.
The duo cooled off since, with Matthews being held off the scoresheet in a 4-1 victory over Boston on Saturday while Laine posted a pair of goose eggs in losses to both the Minnesota Wild (4-3) and the Bruins (4-1).
They don't award the Calder Trophy in October — despite what many observers in Toronto seem to think — so hockey fans can look forward to another six months of comparisons and dueling highlights. There are also a large number of other first-year players throughout the NHL who may have something to say about the end-of-year rookie hardware.
Matthews, for one, isn't buying into the hype.
“We're on our own teams now,” he told the Toronto Sun following practice Tuesday. “It's not any comparison, not one against the other. It's just another game. We have 80 more of them. It's the Toronto Maple Leafs against Winnipeg Jets.”
Laine concurred, telling a media scrum on Tuesday that they will each follow their own careers.
“I don't need any rivalry between us. I just focus on my own job,” the 18-year-old Finland native said.
Whatever you say, fellas.
Jets coach Paul Maurice and Leafs bench boss Paul Maurice are also quick to downplay the comparisons, noting Matthews is a center while Laine plays on the right wing.
The dynamic duo will be far from the only rookies in this game. Laine is joined by forwards Kyle Connor and Brandon Tanev and defenseman Josh Morrissey, while Matthews has right winger Connor Brown and center Mitch Marner as teammates.
Fans of the WHA Jets will also get their fix on Wednesday evening as the famed Hot Line of Bobby Hull, Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg will be inducted into the Jets' newly minted Hall of Fame.
Hull won't able to attend for personal reasons, but the two Swedish superstars arrived in Winnipeg late Tuesday evening.
Graying stars of yesteryear from the Jets and Oilers started to trickle into town a few days prior to the Heritage Classic's alumni game Saturday, but it will turn into a geyser over the next couple of days as the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Jari Kurri from the Oilers and Teemu Selanne and Dale Hawerchuk from the Jets touch down.