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Added July 4th, 2016 by Ian
NHL

Toronto Maple Leafs hope top draft choice Auston Matthews lives up to billing

Eighteen-year-old centre Auston Matthews of Scottsdale, Arizona became the seventh American-born player to be drafted first overall when the Toronto Maple Leafs selected him on June 24th. The Leafs had the top pick at the NHL Draft in Buffalo, New York after finishing dead last in the league in the 2015/16 season and then winning the draft lottery back in April. There’s just one other native from Arizona playing in the NHL at the moment that’s Sean Couturier of the Philadelphia Flyers. However, he was raised in Canada.

Matthews, who was born in San Roman, California, spent last season playing in Switzerland with Zurich SC and scored 24 goals and 22 assists for 46 points in his 36 outings and helped the team to the league’s best regular-season record. Matthews was one of a record dozen American-born players to be taken in the first round of an NHL draft while there were 11 Canadians selected. This is the first time ever that more Americans were chosen in the first round than Canadians. A record three Canadians were taken from the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL).

There were also a few of notable trades during the draft as the Washington Capitals acquired Danish centre Lars Eller from the Montreal Canadiens for a pair of second-round draft picks. Montreal then sent two second-round draft choices to the Chicago Blackhawks for forward Andrew Shaw, who was a restricted free agent this summer. Shaw and the Habs then agreed to a six-year contract extension worth $23.4 million. The Calgary Flames acquired 31-year-oldgoaltender Brian Elliott from the St. Louis Blues for the 35th-pick overall and a conditional third-round pick. Elliott led the NHL in save percentage last season at 93.0 He also posted a 23-8-6 record along with four shutouts.

Right -winger Patrik Laine of Finland was taken second overall in the draft by the Winnipeg Jets. He was the Most Valuable Player, an All-Star and the best forward at the 2016 world championships this year and also led his club team Tappara to Finnish league championship. He was then named the MVP of the league’s playoffs. The third overall pick was Canadian left-winger Pierre-Luc Dubois of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). Dubois went to the Columbus Blue Jackets even though he wasn’t ranked as high as Finnish right-winger Jesse Puljujärvi.

This meant the Edmonton Oilers couldn’t believe their luck when Puljujärvi was still available at number four and they snapped him up. The 6-foot-4-inch youngster played with Karpat in the Finnish League and scored 28 points in 50 games this season. Puljujärvi helped Finland to the silver medal at the IIHF World U18 Championships in Switzerland last year. He also played at this year’s World Junior Championships and helped his homeland win gold with 17 points in his five games. His performance saw him named the MVP and best forward of the tournament.

As far as the Maple Leafs and Matthews go, the American was still ranked number one overall even though Laine and Puljujärvi were close behind. The Leafs needed a big centre as they haven’t had one since Mats Sundin left the club in 2008. The last time Toronto had the first-overall draft pick was back in 1985 when they selected Wendel Clark. Matthews should certainly be a fine NHL player, but when all is said and done years from now, the Leafs may end up regretting not taking Laine or Puljujärvi with their pick.

 
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