Each year, SB Nation NHL's various sites host a mock draft, putting each team blog sequentially on the clock and tasking their staff with debating who to select. Last year, PPP selected Mitch Marner fourth overall and Daniel Sprong with the 24th overall selection.
This year, the Leafs will once again be on the draft board twice in the first round thanks to the acquisition of the Pittsburgh Penguins' pick via the Phil Kessel trade. That decision will be tough, and is scheduled to be released June 21.
But this one wasn't.
Here's how the debate went in our Slack chatroom:
So the SB Nation mock draft has begun and we're on the clock for our first pick. Any objects to Auston Matthews haha? - Scott
I would to trade it for Nick Ritchie. Make up for drafting Nylander. - Elseldo
Trade it to the Coyotes for OEL. - Achariya
Just kidding Matthews sounds good. - Achariya
Yeah, I think we're good with Matthews. - Arvind
Ehh, I don't know. We might want to think about it a bit more. What would Dave (Nonis) do? - Emily
I vote Auston. - Mike
Okay, first pick draft story as inspired by Emily: Lou is worried, he's new in Toronto, he wants to do the right thing for draft day, so he's visited by the ghosts of draft day past (Nonis) present (Shanny) and future (Dubas). Nonis tells him to trade for Max Domi, Shanny just stands there and says, I trust you, and Dubas flashes some rings. - Katya
And it was always meant to be that easy. As good as Patrik Laine is, and as much as the Leafs surely did their due diligence and considered him as a real option, Auston Matthews is Toronto's guy.
At 6-2 and roughly 200 Ibs, Matthews is the centre most teams dream about. Skates well? Check. Can play with power and out-muscle defenders to create chances for himself and create space for his linemates? Check? Can finish as well in tight with elite stickhandling and movement around the net as he can from a distance with one of the class' best releases? Check. A developing high-end defensive presence who comes back deep in the zone and is aggressive on loose pucks? Check.
A lot of talk about his two goals today but a nice job by Matthews to retrieve his own play for the assist. pic.twitter.com/OSFXhM4G4j— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) May 8, 2016
An adept passer who can find teammates through seams and do more than just score? Check.
Watch Auston Matthews carry the puck around the offensive zone for 15 seconds against grown men. pic.twitter.com/yOzVJVANtc— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) May 12, 2016
He's everything the Leafs have so desperately needed since the departure of Mats Sundin. It doesn't matter that Patrick Laine outscored him 13-11 at the World Juniors with better linemates. It doesn't matter that Laine again outscored him 12-9 (with much better linemates this time) at the World Championships.
At the end of the day, it doesn't matter that Laine won Liiga playoff MVP either. Matthews registered 46 points in 36 games for the second best points per game clip in the NLA when he was a teenager. He too, led his World Championships (named a top-3 player on the team) and World Junior (named as the top centre on the tournament's All-Star Team) teams in scoring. In the Swiss Cup, he led the tournament in scoring with seven points in four games as his ZSC Lions won the title. At Under-18 Worlds, Matthews outscored Laine 15-11 on route to being named the tournament's top forward. But that shouldn't matter either, because Matthews played on the better team and we know better (or we should) than to compare players based on awfully small sample sizes.
But Matthews is the No. 1 pick. He has been for years and nothing in his performance or demeanour has done anything to change that. Jack Eichel was never seriously in the conversation for first overall in 2015 -- though social media would have told you different when he scored before McDavid in the NHL -- and neither is Patrik Laine in 2016.
So enjoy Matthews. And enjoy Laine. They're both exceptional players. But know that the former is going first overall and will spend years as the Leafs' No. 1 centre.
Here's some of his highlights, ordered chronologically so that you can watch him progress.
Watch Auston Matthews slide behind two D, beat two more, out wait goalie for goal in return. https://t.co/cMf8RFxX8s— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) November 25, 2015
Watch Auston Matthews split the D again for his second goal of the game. What injury? https://t.co/nRu8r53kuc— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) November 25, 2015
Auston Matthews had 1G, 1A in ZSC's 5-2 loss in his final game before WJCs. Here's the goal. https://t.co/5wcxVbwJOt— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) December 16, 2015
Watch Auston Matthews scores his first goal of the World Championships for Team USA. https://t.co/5ZJ3DwiZkW— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) May 7, 2016
Matthews picks up a two-goal game with the shootout winner to send Team USA to the semis. https://t.co/QtTjW1LJYx— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) May 19, 2016