A Scarce Resource:
The prospect of being able to draft a “generational talent” in an NHL Entry Draft to star for your team in the next decade (if not more) is always enticing to General Managers. Yet, few GMs ever get such an opportunity, because unlike average NHL players, which are a dime a dozen, “generational players” come few and far between. Indeed, I estimated in my last article titled “Why Landing a ‘Generational Talent/Player’ Through Today’s National Hockey League Draft Is So Difficult” that the appearance of such a phenomenon available for the taking in an NHL Entry Draft is approximately once every ten years and four months. From 1984 to 2014, those who fit the bill can be counted with one hand: Mario Lemieux, the pre-concussed Eric Lindros, and Sidney Crosby. Wayne Gretzky, despite being the NHL’s all-time leading goal scorer (with 894 goals) and all-time point leader (2,857 points) does not qualify because he was never drafted; his rights were simply transferred from the World Hockey Association (WHA) to the NHL when the Edmonton (formerly Alberta) Oilers joined the latter in the 1979-1980 season after the two leagues merged.
Bucking The Trend:
Strangely, against all odds, we have the unusual spectacle of this trend being bucked with the likes of Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel being picked first overall by Edmonton and second overall by Buffalo in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, followed by Auston Matthews being selected first overall by Toronto in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. That is a total of three “generational talents” in the past two NHL Entry Drafts alone. As a matter of fact, former Calgary Flames GM and The Sports Network (TSN) ice hockey broadcast analyst Craig Button predicts that Nolan Patrick, the consensus top prospect who is considered the crown jewel of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, will be another “generational player.” If his forecast comes true, we would have seen the extraordinary phenomenon of having four “generational talents” appearing within a span of three NHL Entry Drafts! Mathematically, whereas there is 0.097 of a “generational player” eligible to be drafted in any given NHL Entry Draft based on historical data (1 “generational talent” / 124 months = 0.097 “generational player” per NHL Entry Draft) from 1984 to 2015, there are actually 1.5 “generational talents” if we referred to the emergence of McDavid, Eichel, and Matthews in the 2015 and 2016 NHL Entry Drafts (3 “generational players” / 2 NHL Entry Drafts = an average of 1.5 “generational talents” in each of these two NHL Entry drafts). If we were to give Nolan the benefit of the doubt and classify him as yet another “generational talent” who is destined to be drafted first overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, that number would dip ever-so-slightly but still remain relatively stable at 1.33 “generational players” based on the draftees from the 2015, 2016, and 2017 NHL Entry Drafts (4 “generational players” / 3 NHL Entry Drafts = an average of 1.33 “generational talents” in each of these three NHL Entry drafts).
A Shift In The Core Debate:
The appearance of multiple “generational players” over the past few NHL Entry Drafts gives rise to an unusual debate. Normally, the scarcity of “generational talents” means that analysts prototypically spend time on two fronts: (1) discussing how dominant the newly-crowned “generational player” is compared to the rest of the league and (2) how this fresh “generational talent” holds his own against his predecessors, i.e., the previous “generational players” before him. Case in point, Sidney Crosby (the “generational player” who entered the NHL in 2005) has repeatedly been measured up against his mentor Mario Lemieux (Crosby’s immediate predecessor and the “generational talent” who entered the NHL in 1984). Instead, the unforeseeable rise of three “generational players” from the past two NHL Entry Drafts in McDavid, Eichel, and Matthews has shifted the focus of the debate to who is the best “generational talent” among the three of them. However, the near-universal conclusion—backed by the fact that he put up a ridiculous 44 goals and 76 assists for a total of 120 points in only 47 games for the Erie Otters in his last (2014-2015) season playing in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and then managing a stellar encore by averaging better than a point per game (48 point / 45 games = an average of 1.07 points per game) in his first (2015-2016) NHL season playing for the Oilers—is that McDavid has effectively separated himself from other phenoms in the league to the point that he is now in a class of his own. Therefore, the comparisons should really be focused on Eichel and Matthews with respect to who is the second best active “generational talent” behind McDavid, which is exactly what I am going to do.
Never Mind McDavid… Focus On Eichel Versus Matthews:
Leading up to the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, the word is that had Matthews, who was born on 17 September 1997, been eligible for that year’s draft (he missed the cut-off date by a mere two days) he would have been picked third overall behind McDavid and Eichel. Logically, this would imply that Eichel is a better “generational player” than Matthews. Why else would the North Chelmsford, Massachusetts native gone ahead of the Scottsdale, Arizona native (albeit born in San Ramon, California) hypothetically? Here, I argue otherwise as I would suggest that the Maple Leafs’ centre is the better of the two “generational talents” when matched head-to-head against the Sabres’ centre. To this end, allow me to present to you a multitude of reasons that demonstrate why Matthews is a better (or dare I say a “superior”) “generational player” when contrasted against Eichel. So stay tuned for my encore in “Why Auston Matthews Is a Better Player Than Jack Eichel At This Stage of Their Respective NHL Careers: Part II!”