This is an updated version of a previous post on Hockeydocs on July 3rd, 2016.
Connor McDavid. Auston Matthews. From the Canadian prodigy to the American phenom. Back to back years now we've seen greatness born before our eyes at the NHL draft. The Oilers selecting McDavid No. 1 overall in 2015, and now the Maple Leafs selecting Matthews No. 1 overall in 2016. While we still talk about the Crosby-Ovechkin rivalry, we are set to see a new generation of a star rivalry in Matthews vs McDavid.
While many will always talk the "McDavid vs Eichel" debate, we could very well start to see the "McDavid vs Matthews" debate before long. The fact that both are faces of their up and coming franchises and both are No. 1 picks is sure to garner enough attention as it is.
Another reason is the Canadian-American rivalry part of the debate. Now these two countries can debate over which one will represent the NHL better over the years and it gives every reason to believe that hockey fans everywhere will have their eyes glued to their televisions when they see these two represent their respective countries during international tournaments.
We can also talk about as I mentioned briefly at the beginning, what each one will now mean to their respective franchises. McDavid's Oilers haven't been in the playoffs in 10 years, meanwhile even worse, Matthews' Leafs haven't won a Stanley cup in 49 years. In fact, the last time the Leafs won the cup was also the last year for the original six, as the league expanded for the first time the following season.
In other words, the Oilers didn't even exist the last time the Leafs won a cup. Now before Oilers fans start laughing, remember they have not won a cup since the Wayne Gretzky days, while not as far back, it's still been 26 years since the Oilers won a cup. Nonetheless, other than that 2006 run to the final, the Oilers have not even had much success in the years they did make the playoffs since. Enough of that though, back to Matthews and McDavid.
What usually starts a player debated rivalry is exactly this, two franchises in Edmonton and Toronto, who are starving for success, getting dynamic players such as McDavid and Matthews, to lead their rebuilding franchises back to contention. Now that they each have their guys, both teams' rebuilds can take the next step. And that's when we start to debate which player will end up winning their team a cup one day.
Now before we take that step, let's stop dead in our tracks, because no one player is going to automatically change the entire team around. It takes a lot more than that. So with that being said, let's take a look at what each player's teams around them look like.
We start with McDavid. Around Connor McDavid is a plethora of forwards with a lot of talent. Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Leon Draisaitl, and No. 4 overall pick Jesse Puljujarvi will form a core of forwards that will scare teams for a long time. Heck, some are comparing McDavid and Puljujarvi alone as the next Jari Kurri-Wayne Gretzky duo(that is, if they play the two together).
If Edmonton can get some defense around their forward depth, and Cam Talbot gets comfortable and provides serviceable goaltending, the McDavid-led Oilers could be in the playoffs very soon, heck I'd be bold enough to say within the next 1-2 years.
Now on to Matthews. Auston enters a different situation than McDavid. Toronto is right in the middle of their rebuild, meaning their truck load of top prospects are just now beginning to start graduating to the NHL level. Around Matthews, you have William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Kaspari Kapanen, and Nikita Soshnikov as the top young players close to the NHL. Then there's Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk, Morgan Reilly, and Jake Gardiner as the young, more experienced players that have already made it to the NHL. That's a very outstanding bunch to have.
Once the Leafs start to make it back to contention, which is say with in the next 2-3 years, we will start to see just what the Matthews-led Leafs will be made of.
It's without a doubt going to be an amazing thing to watch over the coming years, watching just how great these two are going to become, but how they lead their respective franchises going forward will really say a lot about each one's growth and leadership ahead. Heck, maybe one day we will see a Stanley Cup Final between McDavid's Oilers and Matthews' Maple Leafs.