New Leaf Matthews Says he Can Handle Toronto Heat
BUFFALO — When he first came to Buffalo for the scouting combine, Auston Matthews was asked to stand ramrod straight and spread his arms as wide and welcoming as possible for wing span measurement.
“If he’s going to be a saviour of the Leafs, he might as well look the part,” an observer cracked.
While he’s a long way from being Wendel Clark, the last No. 1 Leaf, who did make a difference in team fortunes, Matthews continues to handle the pressure of being No. 1 like a seasoned pro. Though he’s only seen the city from the perspective of a touring minor hockey player, he’ll get the rock star treatment when he arrives for prospects camp. rookie camp and the main event in October.
“Hockey is a team game, so there is really no saviour,” Matthews said Friday night. “I know I want to be an impact player. I think I can be a No. 1 centreman in the NHL.”
Marc Crawford, his coach in Zurich, Switzerland, a Leaf farm team coach before making it in the NHL and a Toronto resident, did his best to prepare the 18-year-old Matthews for what was ahead when it became clear the Leafs were going to be a lottery team.
“They’re extremely passionate fans, they love the Leafs, the Blue Jays, the Raptors,” Matthews said. “That’s something you don’t want to take for granted. People say that when you’re winning, it’s the best place in the league. (Crawford said) you will be under the microscope with the media and everything. But if I go there, eventually it will be a blast.
“It’s going to be an adjustment, but something I feel I can handle well. Over time, I’ll get better and better at (handling the heat).”
Matthews will be playing under a decorated coach, Olympic and Stanley Cup champion Mike Babcock.
“That will be a huge honour,” Matthews said. “His resume speaks for itself. I can learn a lot playing for him.”
STARTING TO GET IT RIGHT?
Auston Matthews joins a growing class of quality Leaf picks after some recent hits and misses:
2008 — D Luke Schenn (5th overall) Traded to Flyers for James van Riemsdyk
2009 — C Nazem Kadri (7th) Contending for No. 1 centre, 197 points in 326 games.
2010 — No pick, traded to Boston for Phil Kessel.
2011 — C Tyler Biggs (22nd) Traded to Pittsburgh, has yet to play in NHL.
2011 — D Stu Percy (25th) Reliable Marlie, 12 NHL games, three assists.
2012 — D Morgan Rielly (5th) Made team as a rookie, now a top four d-man
2013 — C Frederik Gauthier (21st) Called up last year for fourth line duty.
2014 — C/RW William Nylander (8th) Impressed in Leaf debut with 13 points in 22 games.
2015 — RW Mitch Marner (4) CHL player of the year, Memorial Cup MVP
2016 — C Auston Matthews (1) Broke Patrick Kane’s scoring records with USDT