Rookies Laine, Matthews on display as Jets visit Leafs

TORONTO — Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets and Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs will provide an interesting sub-plot when their teams meet Tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre.

They are the two top rookie-of-the-year candidates and both are key players on their respective teams.

Adding to the intrigue is that Matthews was the first pick overall in the 2016 NHL draft and Laine was the second.

“I think they’ll be writing about that for 20 years, won’t they?” Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said after a 4-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes Sunday, when asked if the two rookies will make the game that much more exciting.

“I think it’s always good to compete. I think the competitive guys want to compete every night and want to compete against the best. Laine is a heck of a player and Winnipeg has got a real good team. It should be fun.”

Laine leads rookie scoring with 28 goals and 24 assists in 54 games. Matthews, who scored a spectacular goal on Sunday, is next with 28 goals and 21 assists in 58 contests.

After having two assists in the 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators Sunday, Laine was named NHL’s First Star of the Week the following day.

The 18-year-old scored five goals and added three assists to contribute to three wins and an overtime loss.

Toronto’s Nazem Kadri was the NHL’s Second Star with four goals and two assists.

Matthews, 19, scored two goals and had two assists last week.

“(Matthews is) just going to get better and better and better,” Babcock said. “He has a chance to be a dominant player in this league. What I like is his ‘drivetrain’ is such that he wants to do that and he’s a young kid getting better every day in a real hard league. He’s an important player for us.”

This will be the second game of the season between the teams. The Jets came back for a 5-4 overtime victory Oct. 20.

The Maple Leafs led 4-0 in the second period when Laine led the comeback with his first NHL hat trick, including the overtime winner, which followed Matthews’ miss on a breakaway. Matthews had one assist in the game.

The Maple Leafs (27-20-11) are 4-5-2 over their past 11 games.

The Jets (28-29-5) are 5-4-1 over their past 10 despite a four-game losing streak Feb. 4-11.

“We’re coming together pretty good here,” Jets captain Blake Wheeler said. “We have four lines playing the same way, there seems to be different guys contributing every night and that’s what you need to win games.”

Jets center Mathieu Perreault said: “Two years ago, when we made the playoffs we were a physical team, and that’s kind of how we got into the playoffs. If we want to have any chance we have to go back to that, and now it’s working.”

The Jets will be without defenseman Jacob Trouba for two games after the league suspended him Monday for an illegal hit to the head of Senators right winger Mark Stone during the third period.

Meanwhile, Maple Leafs rookie Mitch Marner, who has 15 goals and 33 assists in 56 games, is listed as day to day after missing the past two contests with an injured right shoulder.

The Jets are on the fringe of the playoffs, one point removed from a wild-card spot.

“We’ve got to string as many together as we can. It’s not about how, it’s about how many you can put together,” Wheeler said. “We’ve found our game here. …so we’ve got a huge one coming up in Toronto.”

Said Matthews: “I think these games now heading into this part of the season are must-win. It’s a tight race in our division and our conference. All of these games are very important.”