Cam Tucker

Auston Matthews of USA celebrates after scoring to take the score to 3-0, during the 2016 IIHF World Junior Ice Hockey Championships quarterfinal match between USA and Czech Republic in Helsinki, Finland, on January 2nd, 2016. (Roni Rekomaa / Lehtikuva via AP)  FINLAND OUT - NO SALES
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Auston Matthews believes he’s ‘physically and mentally strong’ to handle pressure in Toronto

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) His European hockey apprenticeship over, Auston Matthews is back on North American soil and turning his attention on beginning his NHL career.

From Matthews’ home in Scottsdale, Arizona, to playing pro in Switzerland and last month’s world championships in Russia, the 18-year-old forward arrived in Buffalo this week to participate in the league’s annual pre-draft combine. It’s the final step for Matthews, who in three weeks will be back for the NHL draft in Buffalo, where he is projected to be selected first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“A lot of adventures, but it’s nice to be back home,” Matthews said Friday, standing in front of a large crowd of reporters – many of them from Toronto.

“Whatever happens, happens. It’s out of your control now. Our season’s over,” Matthews said about whether he’ll become the first American-born player drafted since 2007, when Chicago selected Buffalo-born forward Patrick Kane. “We have the testing tomorrow and that’s really the last time besides meetings that you can really make an impression on teams.”

Matthews has made his mark despite making the unusual move of playing for Zurich last season.

Finishing second in the league’s MVP voting, he led the Lions and finished 10th in the league with 24 goals, while adding 22 assists in 36 games. Despite a two-month layoff after Zurich was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in March, Matthews led the United States with six goals, while adding three assists at the world championships.

“He lived up to expectations,” NHL Central Scouting director Dan Marr said about the 6-foot-2, 194-pound Matthews. “No one was going to say it would happen, that he would be one of the best players in the (Swiss) league, one of the top scorers in the league. That certainly wasn’t expected. It wouldn’t be of any 18 year old. But he went over there and had success.”

Central Scouting ranks Finnish-born forwards Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi second and third.

What separates Matthews is his play-making ability and speed, leading Marr to describe him as “the complete package.”

Matthews’ performance at the world championships convinced Team North America general manager Peter Chiarelli to make him one of the final seven players chosen to the squad’s 23-player World Cup of Hockey roster last week.

“We couldn’t ignore it,” Chiarelli said. “For me, he was the best if not one of the top two or three on that U.S. team.”

Matthews’ decision to play overseas was prompted because he was too old to play for the U.S. Developmental team and too young – by two days – to be eligible for last year’s draft because of his Sept. 17 birthday.

Rather than spend a season playing in college or at the Canadian junior level, Matthews and his agent Pat Brisson, decided it would be best to develop his game in Zurich. Another benefit was the Lions were headed by Marc Crawford, who coached the 1996-Stanley Cup-winning Colorado Avalanche.

“We flew him and his parents over to explore and he was sold on it immediately,” Brisson said. “We wanted him in the right environment and felt the Swiss league was better than college or the CHL.”

Matthews has no regrets of just missing out on being part of last year’s draft, where Marr said he would have drawn comparisons to the top two players selected, Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Buffalo’s Jack Eichel.

“When I was born, you can’t change that,” Matthews said. “I think it’s nice to get that extra year to grow into your body some more and develop a little bit more.”

Growing up an Arizona Coyotes fan, Matthews has no difficulty accepting the pressure that would come playing in a hockey mecca such as Toronto. It’s where coach Mike Babcock and general manager Lou Lamoriello are in the midst of rebuilding a once-proud franchise that has made the playoffs just once in the past 11 years.

The Leafs met with Matthews this week, but have yet to tip their hand regarding who they’ll draft first.

“If that were to happen, I definitely think I can handle that. I think I’m physically and mentally strong,” Matthews said of playing in Toronto. “I want to be an impact player in the NHL. For whatever team, I can see myself being that player.”

‘It comes down to how far we want to stretch,’ says Bruins GM of contract talks with pending UFA Eriksson

Boston Bruins' Loui Eriksson is congratulated at the bench after scoring during the third period of a 2-1 win over the New York Islanders in an NHL hockey game in Boston, Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
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With the opening of free agency less than a month away, Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney has said he’s had discussions with agent J.P. Barry about Loui Eriksson, the team’s pending unrestricted free agent coming off a 30-goal season.

Given his production in the regular season — in addition to his 30 goals, he also recorded 63 points — the soon-to-be 31-year-old Eriksson could attract plenty of attention on the open market. If he gets there.

“I met with J.P. and his group this week, and we’ve continued to have discussions to see if we can find common ground. We’re getting closer to July 1. Does he feel the itch [to test free agency]? Maybe. But I’ve said all along I respect what Loui brings to our hockey club,” Sweeney told CSNNE.com. “If we don’t find common ground with Loui then we’re going to have to replace him.

“There have been some good discussions. The onus is on us to display what level we’re willing to commit to Loui, and as he knows on the door to free agency that is important to him. It comes down to how far we want to stretch.”

Despite his contract status, the Bruins didn’t move Eriksson at the trade deadline, meaning there was the possibility they could lose him for nothing if he decides to test the market in the summer.

That was the risk at the end of February. The beginning of free agency looms closer now.

There was also a nugget of info on Bruins’ forward Brad Marchand and his future in Boston.

From the Boston Herald:

The Bruins intend to begin efforts in July on a contract extension for Brad Marchand, who can be a UFA after next season.

Blues’ Steen has shoulder surgery, expected to be out four to six months

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 21: Alexander Steen #20 of the St. Louis Blues in action against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on December 21, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Alexander Steen has undergone successful shoulder surgery and is expected to be out four to six months, the St. Louis Blues announced on Friday.

“Alexander suffered the original shoulder injury in February 20th in Arizona. He rehabbed and worked hard to get back and be a big part in the team’s run to the Conference Final. Alex is one of the most dedicated players in the NHL when it comes to fitness and we’re thrilled things went well today,” said Blues GM Doug Armstrong in a statement.

The 32-year-old Steen was named to Sweden’s World Cup roster, but the timeline revealed by the Blues following the operation has him out until early October, meaning he’d miss the tournament.

In 67 games this season, Steen scored 17 goals and 52 points. He followed that up with four goals and 10 points in 20 post-season games.

Stillman: Western Conference Final loss provides ‘fuel’ for Blues

DALLAS, TX - MAY 01:  David Backes #42 of the St. Louis Blues walks off the ice after scoring the game winning goal against Antti Niemi #31 of the Dallas Stars in overtime in Game Two of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at American Airlines Center on May 1, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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The St. Louis Blues have had some time to digest losing to the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final.

Their run to the NHL’s final four included series wins over the rival Chicago Blackhawks and high-flying Dallas Stars, after posting 107 points in the regular season. In the end, however, they couldn’t find a way to beat the Sharks, the emotion of that Game 6 loss showing on the faces of guys like David Backes.

On Friday, the Blues released a letter online from chairman Tom Stillman, who highlighted those more optimistic points.

From Stillman:

Our post-season adventure brought us a hard-fought Round 1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks, the defending Stanley Cup champions and our biggest rival. The atmosphere at Scottrade Center was electric throughout the series, and our Game 7 victory is one of my fondest memories as a Blues fan. Round 2, a match-up between the top regular-season teams in the Western Conference, was another series for the ages, as our team took another Game 7 victory.

Unfortunately, our quest for the Cup ended in the Western Conference Final. While the loss still stings, it does not diminish our pride in the team’s accomplishments throughout the season; it only provides fuel and experience for our ongoing efforts to bring the Cup to St. Louis.

He continued:

As we bring this tremendous season to a close, we are working on making next season even better. Head Coach Ken Hitchcock will return for his final season, eager to build on this year’s progress. With a compelling mix of seasoned players and young, breakthrough talents, the future is very promising.

Yes, the Blues retained Hitchcock behind their bench for one more season. (On that note, it was reported the Blues are interviewing Mike Yeo as a possible replacement-in-waiting for Hitch.)

Yes, 20-year-old rookie Robby Fabbri enjoyed an 18-goal, 37-point regular season and 15 points in 20 post-season games. Vladimir Tarasenko was held in check during the conference final but still scored 40 goals during the season and 15 points in the playoffs.

But the Blues still have work ahead of them this summer.

Backes and veteran forward Troy Brouwer, who had a breakout performance in the playoffs, are pending unrestricted free agents.

Backes has said he wants to be back in St. Louis, while Blues GM Doug Armstrong has said it’s a priority to get Backes to return, though it will depend on what the player wants and if it fits into the team’s cap situation.

Taking shots at Bruce Boudreau? Ryan Kesler dishes on what the Ducks need in a new coach

DENVER, CO - APRIL 09:  Ryan Kesler #17 of the Anaheim Ducks awaits a face off against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on April 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. the Ducks defeated the Avalanche 5-3. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Ryan Kesler has offered his take on what the Anaheim Ducks need in a new coach.

In doing so, it certainly sounds like the veteran forward also had some criticisms of former Ducks bench boss Bruce Boudreau, and his in-game adjustments or the lack of.

“We just need a good bench coach, a coach that does things on the fly and makes changes during the game and not just between periods,” Kesler told The Province newspaper in Vancouver. “We need a coach that holds everybody accountable — not just certain guys. We need a coach to come in and just be a good motivator and do what a coach does.

“The biggest thing is we need a good bench coach for strategies. But it’s not my job to pick a coach because there are a lot of good ones out there.”

Boudreau lost his job after the Ducks were eliminated in the first round of these playoffs, marking another post-season disappointment for the franchise. His time on the open market was brief, as the Minnesota Wild hired him eight days later.

Meanwhile, the Ducks are still searching for his replacement.

It was previously reported that the Ducks had interest in Travis Green, who coaches the Utica Comets, the AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks.

Related: Ducks get Sens’ permission to interview Richardson