Who would you rather build a team around, Auston Matthews or Patrik Laine?
Craig Custance: I've had this argument enough already that I'm prepared for a quick answer. It's Auston Matthews. I'm not even sure it's a debate. I love Patrik Laine. Love him. Great shot. He's going to score a ton of goals. But if the talent is that close, you have to go with the center. That's how you win Stanley Cups, by building around franchise centermen: Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar et al. Matthews looks to be in that class. The Winnipeg Jets have a good center in Mark Scheifele, so this might have worked out just about perfectly for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Jets, but if I had to pick one to start a franchise, it's a no-brainer. Give me the center every time.
Rob Vollman: It might be hard to project a player's career based on one season in Finland or Switzerland, and then a partial season in the NHL, but the numbers suggest that Matthews is on a slightly higher trajectory than Laine. This season, it's also interesting that Toronto's share of even-strength shot attempts increases from 49.7 to 52.5 percent when Matthews is on the ice, while Winnipeg's actually drops from 50.3 to 48.2 with Laine. I know shot-based metrics aren't everything, especially when you have Laine's finishing abilities, but in this case the numbers accurately capture what we can see with our own eyes. Essentially, Matthews has a more complete game that tilts the ice in Toronto's favor to a greater extent, even though he's been playing with Zach Hyman and Connor Brown (or William Nylander) rather than breakout stars such as Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers, as Laine is. It's close, but Matthews has the early edge in the beginning of what will continue to be a great rivalry.
Scott Burnside: If you're starting a team like the Vegas Golden Knights, this would be more of a true debate. You know Laine would draw fans and he's going to bring people to the rink in the way that Alex Ovechkin redefined a hockey market in Washington. And that's not nothing. But if you're talking about building a team -- not a market or a franchise -- then there is little debate that Matthews is the choice. No team wins a championship without that kind of seminal figure down the middle. If you're the Pittsburgh Penguins, you have two in Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The Los Angeles Kings have Kopitar. The Chicago Blackhawks have Toews and his three Stanley Cups. Matthews is that kind of player. While I sometimes joke about where the parade route will be in Toronto whenever the Leafs win a few games in a row, there will be a parade there someday and it will be Matthews sitting in the lead convertible with the Cup next to him.
Joe McDonald: I had heard and read all the scouting reports on Laine before I first saw him practice for Team Finland as it prepared for the World Cup of Hockey. I was quickly mesmerized by his size, speed and skill. At one point during that practice, he unleashed a one-timer past teammate and goalie Tuukka Rask, who barely flinched -- because he never saw the puck. The first time I saw him in person was at the 2016 draft when Laine was selected by the Jets with the No. 2 overall pick behind the Maple Leafs' Matthews. Laine's confidence won me over. The best part is he backs it up. Laine is going to be a superstar and he's going to lead the Jets to great things. The same can be said for Matthews and the Maple Leafs, but Laine's going to win the Calder Trophy this season. If I were a GM, and I do agree with Craig's point about the importance of Matthews being a center, but I would no doubt go with Laine to build a team because he's the full package and then some.
Corey Pronman: My position is roughly the same, with a few minor tweaks in favor of Matthews, from when I discussed this issue at length last season here.
Pierre LeBrun: Two goals for Laine on Tuesday night, but Matthews with the last word as his third assist of the game leads to the OT winner in a wild 5-4 Maple Leafs win over the Jets. So much fun to watch. (Unless you were the coaches.) Since my colleagues have pointed out the obvious, the center-over-winger debate, I think it's interesting on a night with much (deserved) hype on the Calder Trophy matchup in Toronto that some old goats also had their moments: Toews with a five-point night -- five points! -- while Crosby scored his league-leading 33rd goal of the season and Malkin got his 25th; No. 71 has been on absolutely fire since coming back from injury. What an amazing season it's been between the new generation of stars taking a turn sharing the spotlight with the established veterans who aren't ready to hand over anything.