NHL draft rarity looks probable: U.S.-born player going with first pick

Auston Matthews led the U.S. at the World Championships with six goals. Sergei Fadeichev\TASS via Getty Images

The NHL draft begins Friday in Buffalo, New York, and a U.S.-born player is widely expected to be the No. 1 pick -- something that has happened only six times before.

Below are the top things to know about the two-day draft.

Maple Leafs have top pick -- and can expect immediate dividends

The Toronto Maple Leafs hold the No. 1 pick. The only previous time the Maple Leafs drafted first was in 1985, when they selected Wendel Clark.

Center Auston Matthews, who grew up in Arizona and played last season with Zurich in Switzerland’s top professional league, is considered the favorite to be selected with the first pick. The most recent U.S.-born player selected No. 1 was Patrick Kane in 2007.

No. 1 draft picks have made an immediate impact over the past three seasons. Nathan MacKinnon and Aaron Ekblad won the Calder Trophy (top rookie) in the seasons after being drafted, and Connor McDavid was nominated for the award in 2015-16 despite missing nearly half the season with an injury.

After Matthews, the top prospects are Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujärvi, both from Finland. If those three are selected with the first three picks, it would be just the second time that no player with Canadian nationality was selected in the top three.

The other time was in 1999, when Patrik Stefan of the Czech Republic was taken first by the Atlanta Thrashers and Swedish twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin went second and third to the Vancouver Canucks.

If Laine or Puljujärvi is taken with the top pick, it would mark the first time a Finnish-born player is selected No. 1. The highest-drafted Finns are Aleksander Barkov and Kari Lehtonen, who went second overall in 2013 and 2002, respectively.

This year’s draft could mark the first time two Finns are taken in the top three of the same draft.

Player notes

Auston Matthews:

- Led the United States with six goals and tied Dylan Larkin for the team lead with nine points at the 2016 World Championships

- Led the United States with seven goals and tied for the team lead with 11 points at the 2016 World Junior Championships

- Only draft-eligible prospect to make the Team North America (Under-23) roster for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey

Patrik Laine:

- Left winger made Team Finland roster for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey

- Led Finland with seven goals and tied Mikael Granlund for the team lead with 12 points at 2016 World Championships

- Was voted best forward and overall MVP of World Championships

- Helped Finland win gold at the 2016 World Junior Championships, leading the team with seven goals

Jesse Puljujärvi:

- Right winger had nine points in 10 playoff games in Finland’s top league

- Had 17 points in seven games at 2016 World Junior Championships for gold medalist Finland

Matthew Tkachuk:

- Left winger is son of former NHL All-Star Keith Tkachuk and cousin of current NHL players Jimmy Hayes and Kevin Hayes

- Recorded 30 goals and 107 points in 57 games with the London Knights during the 2015-16 Ontario Hockey League season

- Helped London win the OHL championship in 2016, leading the team with 20 goals in the playoffs

- Had 11 points at the 2016 World Junior Championships, tied with Matthews for the team lead

- Ranked second among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting