By Neil Davidson – The Canadian Press
The World Cup of Hockey has yet to start but Toronto Maple Leafs teenager Auston Matthews has already made an impression.
“He’s just got better every day,” Team North America coach Todd McLellan said.
“He’s shown that he’s going to be responsible on both sides of the puck. [He] has a great sense of how to use his body on the ice. He’s a big man that protects pucks well. He’s able to use speed when he needs it. He’s able to slow it down and protect [the puck] when he needs it to use.”
The six-foot-two 210-pound Matthews “hasn’t taken a back seat to anybody — respectfully,” McLellan said.
“He has not been shy in the locker-room. He’s not been afraid on the ice,” the coach added. “He’s a pretty exciting player right now. Certainly the Leafs will have a fun one to watch for many years.”
Matthews, who turns 19 on Saturday — the opening day of the tournament — is one of eight Leafs taking part in the World Cup. The others are North American teammate Morgan Rielly, Milan Michalek and Roman Polak (Czech Republic), Leo Komarov (Finland), Nikita Zaitsev (Russia), Jhonas Enroth (Sweden) and James van Riemsdyk (U.S.).
Goalie Frederik Andersen was slated to play for Team Europe but withdrew due to injury.
Eager to play at ACC
Matthews, taken first overall in this past June’s NHL draft after performing well during a season in the Swiss league, says he is looking forward to playing at Air Canada Centre.
“It’s going to be awesome,” the Arizona native said. “It’s going to be a very special moment.”
North America captain Connor McDavid, the first overall pick in 2015, said Matthews is getting more and more comfortable with each outing.
“He’s a big body and he’s confident with the puck,” McDavid said. “He makes good plays. He already has a pretty good defensive game as well.”
North America, made up of players 23 and under, opens tournament play Sunday against Finland.