SAN JOSE — Patrik Laine didn’t downplay his confidence at the NHL scouting combine.
And at the Stanley Cup Final, he didn’t apologize for it.
“People can think what they want to think,” Laine said on Monday, as the top draft prospects descended on San Jose to meet with the media. “I don’t care. People who know me, that know me better, they know I’m a good guy and I’m confident in the right way.
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing.”
If there’s one thing you can say about Laine, it that he’s consistent. His unflinching confidence was in lockstep with the bold declarations made at last week’s combine.
Laine said he thought he could be the next Alex Ovechkin. He said he has the ability to be the best player in the NHL. He said he was just as good as the presumptive No. 1 pick — Auston Matthews — adding that Toronto now “has a tough decision to make” with the first overall selection.
Ah yes, that number one spot. Laine wants it. And he’s gunning for it.
“Of course, I want to be the first guy,” he said. “I think that’s possible.”
And really, why wouldn’t it be?
Last month, Laine became the youngest player in the 80-year history of the World Hockey Championships to win MVP. At 18, he finished with 12 points in 10 games and tied Sweden’s Gustav Nyquist for the tournament goalscoring title. He set up the game-winning goal against the host Russians in the semifinal, and was also named the tournament’s top forward.
Think of it this way. Both Laine and Matthews are 18. Both played in the Worlds. Both had terrific tournaments — Matthews had nine points in 10 games, leading the U.S. in scoring — but Laine was judged to be the most valuable.
So why shouldn’t he think he can top Matthews?
“I would be lying if I said that ‘no, I couldn’t go first.’ That’s always been my goal,” Laine said. “After this season, I think it’s really possible to go first.
“I think [me and Matthews] are quite even. He’s better than me in some stuff, and I’m better than him in some things. I wouldn’t say one of us is better than the other.”
Of course, draft pundits and analysts concede Matthews will almost certainly go first overall, partly because he’s a center, whereas Laine plays the wing.
If that happens, don’t expect Laine to be disappointed. Oh sure, he’ll probably have a little envy about not being the No. 1 pick, but it will result in him falling to Winnipeg at No. 2, where one of his favorite players growing up — Teemu Selanne — began his Hall of Fame career.
“It would be nice to play there [Winnipeg], of course, where he used to play,” Laine said. “The city was crazy about him.”
The ‘Peg would probably be pretty crazy about Laine, too.