SAN JOSE, CALIF. – Patrik Laine isn’t conceding that he should be the No. 2 pick behind Auston Matthews in the NHL draft June 24 in Buffalo.
The Finnish sensation, who most expect will go to the Winnipeg Jets after Matthews is selected first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs, believes that one day he will wind up being the best player of this draft class.
“I think we’re quite even,” Laine said of him and Matthews, a native of Scottsdale, Ariz., who last season played in Switzerland. “He’s better than me in some stuff and I’m better than him in some of the things. I wouldn’t say that one of each other is better than the other. I think we’re quite even right now.”
Laine, who attended Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final with Matthews and three other top prospects in this month’s draft, thinks he has a better shot and goal-scoring ability. But he feels Matthews can set up players and protect the puck better than he can.
But Laine said his goal has always been to go first overall and he still “thinks it’s really possible.”
Laine’s confidence is creating a fun rivalry between the two.
“Everybody has their own right to their own opinion,” Matthews said. “Obviously that’s his. He doesn’t mind expressing that. There’s no problem with that. We’re all here just enjoying the process.”
The Jets struck gold when they won the lottery and moved from sixth overall to second overall. Winnipeg is guaranteed to draft a potential superstar who will go head-to-head with its rival Wild for years.
If Laine is drafted by the Jets, he’s excited to play where his hero, Teemu Selanne, began his NHL career.
“It’ll be nice to play where he used to play, a city that was crazy about him,” Laine said.
On Monday morning, Matthews got to meet San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton, who was drafted first overall three months before he was born in 1997.
“He’s an unbelievable player,” Matthews said. “He’s been in the league for a long time. It was nice to talk to him. He just said to enjoy it. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Not many kids get to take part of this. It’s definitely something you don’t take for granted.”
Matthews called it “eye-opening” being at his first Stanley Cup Final game, especially in a nontraditional market similar to where he grew up.
“[Hockey’s] been growing a lot, not only in Arizona, but California and Texas and Florida,” he said. “It’s cool to see more players come out of these areas and be able to succeed and move on to higher levels.”
A real find
Sharks rookie Joonas Donskoi is becoming a household name. The Game 3 overtime hero’s six playoff goals are one shy of the franchise record for a rookie (Logan Couture, 2011).
Donskoi could have signed with any team last May, but he said he chose San Jose because the Sharks were the first team to show interest.
“I think everyone first saw him starting in the American League,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “He was our best player in development camp. We went on to the main camp, he was the best player in the main camp, exhibitions. He just kept jumping over hurdles.
“He’s the real deal, a real good player for us. We wouldn’t be here without him.”
• Injured Sharks winger Tomas Hertl missed his second game in a row.
• In the four-round, best-of-seven format since 1987, this is only the third time there has not been a sweep in any round of the playoffs (1991 and 2002).