Lou Lamoriello being coy about Leafs' pick in NHL Draft
But everyone in Buffalo knows it will be Auston Matthews
Auston Matthews will have to wait another 24 hours before learning whether the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to select him with the first pick in the NHL draft.
General manager Lou Lamoriello on Thursday said he's going to keep everyone guessing — including the Arizona-born, 18-year-old Matthews — until it's time for the Maple Leafs to announce the selection Friday night.
"I think we know who we're going to pick," Lamoriello said. "No dissension."
What he declined to do was reveal who that player will be for a team preparing to add a significant piece in its bid to restore relevance to one of the NHL's most recognized franchises.
Matthews, who played professionally in Switzerland last season, is ranked first by NHL Central Scouting. He has the chance to be the seventh U.S.-born player selected No. 1, and first since Patrick Kane by Chicago in 2007.
The next two rated players are Finnish-born forwards Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi.
The Maple Leafs have plenty riding on their selection at a time they're ushering in the 100th year of pro hockey being played in Toronto.
Toronto in full rebuild
Toronto is in the midst of a top-to-bottom overhaul after finishing with the NHL's worst record and missing the playoffs for the 10th time in 11 years. The process began last offseason, when Lamoriello was hired along with coach Mike Babcock.
"There's no question we expect a lot out of the player we're getting, but certainly not right away," Lamoriello said. "I don't think there's any player who will be the face of this franchise. The logo will be the face of this franchise."
Matthews is aware of the speculation of being Toronto-bound.
"Of course the possibility kind of runs through your head," said Matthews, who had 24 goals and 46 points in 36 games for Zurich, and then led the United States with six goals in 10 games at the world championships in Russia last month. "I'm trying to take it day by day and enjoy this whole experience. I don't know. We'll see what happens come Friday."
Though Flames president Brian Burke expects the draft order to be Matthews, Laine and Puljujarvi, Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff declined to speculate who might still be available when Winnipeg selects second.
"Nothing surprises you in this draft," Cheveldayoff said.
Uncertainty over picks 3 and 4
There's more uncertainty regarding what teams will follow Toronto and Winnipeg.
The Columbus Blue Jackets have the No. 3 pick, and general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said he wants to see which two players are taken ahead of him before determining whether to trade out of the spot.
"We've been taking phone calls all day today, all day yesterday, and there's a lot of interest in that pick," said Kekalainen, noting he's had trade discussions with each team in the top 10. "I think we're getting some serious and real offers right now."
The Edmonton Oilers are shopping the No. 4 pick, with GM Peter Chiarelli in the market to add an established defenceman to a team stocked with young forwards.
"There's a lot of talk, and it's no secret we're in the market for a defenceman, and we're fully engaged," said Chiarelli, who guessed there's a better than 50 pe rcent chance Edmonton will retain the pick.
The Vancouver Canucks select fifth followed by the Calgary Flames at six in a draft order that features all seven Canadian-based teams selecting in the top 12. That's a reflection of Canada's franchises being shut out of playoff contention last season for the first time since 1969-70, when Toronto and Montreal both missed the post-season.