Among those players heading into the final season of their entry-level contracts, there are several tiers of production. It would be impressive enough if the very top was made up of players like Mitch Marner, Brock Boeser and Sebastian Aho, but there are a few key talents considered in even higher regard. Mikko Rantanen may be in a tier by himself just above those players, given his 84-point season in 2017-18 but there are two even higher than that who will likely be compared to each other for much of their careers.
Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine were the first and second picks of the 2016 draft, and headed to extremely different situations. Matthews, the California-born, Arizona-raised center was brought to the Toronto Maple Leafs, who had just finished dead last in the NHL and had struggled for years to accumulate any young talent. Laine, the Finnish sniper with the Ovechkin-like shot was sent to Winnipeg to compliment an impressive core that had already been mostly built. While the media attention and league notoriety of the two markets might be polar opposites, both players have shown themselves to be elite talents in the NHL and will likely demand huge contract extensions at some point in the next year.
Laine, for what it’s worth, is in no rush to get a deal done. Speaking to media including Tom Gulliti of NHL.com, the Winnipeg superstar was his usual laid-back self when addressing his contract situation.
I really don’t care. There’s no rush, really. I can do it next summer or this summer. I don’t mind.
It’s always easier if it’s long-term so you don’t have to think about doing a new contract for a while, and I’m happy where I’m at. I want to stay there, for sure. That’s something I want to do, and hopefully they’re thinking the same way.
Whether he waits for next summer or not, Laine is set to become one of the highest-paid forwards in the league in short order. When Jack Eichel, the second-overall pick from 2015, signed his eight-year $80MM extension that ties him for the fifth among league cap hits up front, he was coming off a 57-point season with the Buffalo Sabres. Granted, that number was reached in just 61 games, but when comparing Eichel’s production with Laine’s it’s easy to see why the Winnipeg forward will get really expensive, really quickly. In 209 career games now, Eichel—who is also a center, which normally demands more salary and responsibility—has 73 goals and 177 points. Laine meanwhile has scored 80 goals in just 155 contests, while maintaining a higher points-per-game rate as well.
That’s not to disparage Eichel, who is an incredible player in his own right and will likely set career-highs this season after being rewarded with better linemates, but goes to show the level on which Laine has been performing to this point in his career. While the Maple Leafs try to prepare a way to fit an eight figure salary into their structure for Matthews, it’s not out of the question to think that the Jets will have to do the same. That makes it tough on a club that has more than just Laine to pay over the next few seasons, as Blake Wheeler, Kyle Connor, Jacob Trouba and Tyler Myers are all hitting free agency of one sort or another next summer. It’s a good thing that there is “no rush” to get things done, because the Jets still need to find a way to fit everyone in.