The NHL Entry Draft is tonight in Buffalo and for months the consensus has been Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi are the top three players available. Laine has made a case to be the top pick with his play at the world championships and his efforts and words at the NHL Combine.

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The NHL Entry Draft is tonight in Buffalo and for months the consensus has been Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi are the top three players available. Laine has made a case to be the top pick with his play at the world championships and his efforts and words at the NHL Combine.

We asked FP columnists Paul Wiecek and Scott Campbell and hockey writer Tim Campbell to tell us how they think it will go down tonight.

Oh, and in case you missed it, the Jets were winners at the draft lottery and pick second. The Toronto Maple Leafs pick first and the Columbus Blue Jackets are slotted third.

 

Paul Wiecek

It seems inconceivable to me that the Toronto Maple Leafs will draft anyone other than Matthews, although if anyone can mess up a no-brainer pick like this one it would certainly be the Leafs.

You build teams up the middle and everyone who’s anyone thinks Matthews has the makings of a generational centreman upon which the Leafs can build the future of their franchise. He’s fast, he’s smart, he’s a competitor and, perhaps most importantly, he seems remarkably grounded. He’s going to need to be to survive in the unforgiving spotlight that Toronto is going to shine on him.

There’s been a growing chorus of hockey people in recen weeks who have argued that the Winnipeg Jets are actually going to get the best player in this year’s draft with the second overall pick.

Laine himself believes that — just ask him — and it’s really hard to argue with the youngster after an MVP performance at last month’s World Hockey Championships in which he broke a 26-year-old scoring record set by Jaromir Jagr.

And while Laine has gotten a lot more ink, it’s Puljujarvi who is the Finnish winger in this year’s draft class who has been more commonly compared to Teemu Selanne, a comparison that will resonate with Winnipeg hockey fans louder than anyone.

His stock seems to have fallen in recent months, but I still don’t see Columbus and their Finnish GM — Jarmo Kekalainen — taking anyone but Puljujarvi with the third overall pick.

There’s always surprises at an NHL draft but the top three picks this year seem automatic.

 

Patrik Laine of Finland, left, fights for the puck with Canada's Taylor Hall during a match in St. Petersburg, Russia in May.

DMITRI LOVETSKY / ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE

Patrik Laine of Finland, left, fights for the puck with Canada's Taylor Hall during a match in St. Petersburg, Russia in May.

Tim Campbell

Even if the Leafs think either of Patrick Laine or Jesse Puljujarvi are better players than Auston Matthews, Matthews’ position trumps all in a close race.

Toronto gets Matthews, the centre they so desperately need to start back down the road to respectability; the Jets thank their lucky stars (and draft lottery balls) as they call the name of a pure scorer, Laine, and the NHL’s only Finnish GM, Jarmo Kekalainen, giggles for weeks that Puljujarvi is about to join the Blue Jackets.

Other options on these three choices seem more than remote at this stage.

 

Left to right: Finland's Jesse Puljujarvi, Sebastian Aho and Patrik Laine celebrate the 4-0 goal by Puljujarvi during the 2016 IIHF World Junior Ice Hockey Championship match of Finland against Belarus in Helsinki, Finland, in December.

HEIKKI SAUKKOMAA / LEHTIKUVA FILES

Left to right: Finland's Jesse Puljujarvi, Sebastian Aho and Patrik Laine celebrate the 4-0 goal by Puljujarvi during the 2016 IIHF World Junior Ice Hockey Championship match of Finland against Belarus in Helsinki, Finland, in December.

Scott Campbell

Winnipeg Jets fans should be enjoying tonight’s NHL draft as much as they can. If everything goes right, this may be one of the most exciting moments in team history.

I believe Auston Matthews will — and should be — the first pick by the Leafs. Simply put, 6-2 centres with high-end talent don’t come on the market often.

I won’t be shocked if the Jets choose Jesse Puljujarvi — just a bit surprised. He and Patrik Laine were rated evenly at Christmas and while Laine is generally acknowledged as the best pure goal-scorer available in a draft since Alexander Ovechkin, Puljujarvi may be a more complete player in all the ways the Jets covet.

I can’t see anyone cracking this fabulous three.

On another note, when I think of a longshot possibility in the opening round, it is the prospect of Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff trading up from the No. 22 pick — tossing in a prospect from the full cupboards he has stocked — and targetting a player like Windsor Spitfires defencemen Mikhail Sergachev. I watched this 6-3 Russian rearguard a lot after Jets prospect Brendan Lemieux was traded to the Spitfires last season; he is a great skater, has a great shot (a left one at that) and should be taken anywhere from six to 10 in the first round.