Auston Matthews

Getty

Slumping Leafs will be without Auston Matthews tonight

10 Comments

After starting the season with wins in six of their seven games the Toronto Maple Leafs have hit a bit of a rut in recent weeks, winning just three of their past nine games heading into Wednesday’s home game against the Minnesota Wild.

Wednesday’s game will be a little bit more challenging due to the fact their best player, second-year superstar Auston Matthews, will be out of the lineup due to an upper-body injury.

He is currently listed as being day-to-day.

Matthews has been dealing with the injury for a couple of days now but managed to play on Monday night in Toronto’s 4-3 shootout win against Vegas. He recorded an assist in the win.

This will be the first game that Matthews has missed in his career due to injury.

After scoring 40 goals as a rookie Matthews has followed it up so far this season by recording 19 points (including 10 goals) in his first 16 games. As of Wednesday he is in the top-five in both goals and total points and is once again on a 40-goal pace.

After tonight the Maple Leafs play a home-and-home set with the Boston Bruins on Friday and Saturday before getting a four day break.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

‘Young Mario’ Matthews continues to reinvent ways to score

Getty Images
3 Comments

WASHINGTON (AP) — Auston Matthews is drawing comparisons to Mario Lemieux and getting noticed by Bryce Harper amid a hot start to his second NHL season.

Last season’s Calder Trophy winner as rookie of the year, Matthews went into training camp seeking to be more assertive on the ice. That has translated to five goals and three assists in his first six games and the kind of improved all-around play that makes the face of the Toronto Maple Leafs a superstar already at age 20.

”He’s got a skillset that ranges from just about everything,” Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri said Tuesday. ”The ceiling’s the limit for Matts, and he knows he can be a great player and he already is. It’s crazy to think he’s (still) at such a young age.”

Even though Matthews remains in the shadow of Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby on hockey’s pantheon of top players, he already has filled up the highlight reel thanks to some tweaks and adjustments. The Scottsdale, Arizona, native was the first rookie to score 40 goals since Alex Ovechkin in 2005-06 and is conscious of the pressure to keep up that pace.

”You’re always reinventing yourself,” Matthews said. ”The league’s always adjusting and you’ve got to adjust right back to it.”

The league hasn’t adjusted yet. Matthews showed that by scoring goals so many different ways this season.

Matthews scored an overtime winner against Chicago by taking the puck off a carom off the back of Patrick Kane‘s right skate and going down the ice. Against Montreal, he scored one goal by flipping the puck past a Canadiens defender and knocking it down at full speed before firing through a screen, and then another on the rush by shooting short side on 2015 Vezina Trophy winning goaltender Carey Price.

”For me, the first (Montreal goal) was probably a little more impressive just how he handled the pass and you see how much he changed the angle,” Toronto winger James van Riemsdyk said. ”He’s really good at changing the angle, getting it off quick, things like that. He’s got a lot of different shots that he’ll try within his toolbox. It makes him pretty unpredictable when he’s going to shoot it.”

Matthews has only played 88 regular-season and six playoff games and yet has admirers far and wide.

Harper wore a brand new blue No. 34 Matthews jersey out of the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse after their season-ending Game 5 loss to the Chicago Cubslast week. Matthews said he doesn’t know Harper, who’s from Las Vegas, but called the honor ”awesome.”

Capitals coach Barry Trotz has been watching Matthews’ growth and likened him – already – to a Hockey Hall of Famer and one of the best players in history.

”Auston Matthews, I’ve been saying it: He’s a young Mario Lemieux,” Trotz said. ”He’s (big), he can skate, he’s ultra-skilled, he’s very, very competitive, he makes plays.”

Matthews’ rookie success earned him another believer: himself. He said last month he was aiming to trust his skills more and want the puck more. With the season underway he said ”you just want to be the best player you can be,” and that’s evident with how much the line of Matthews, Zach Hyman and William Nylander have had the puck.

”We’ve been able to create offense, which is important, and that leads to chances,” Nylander said. ”That’s always a positive.”

At even strength, Matthews has been on the ice for 80 Leafs shots and 64 by opponents, evidence of just how much his evolving defensive game benefits the Maple Leafs.

”When you play well defensively, you feel like you get the puck more,” Matthews said. ”We’re offensive guys. We want to create offense so when you have the puck it feels good and you feel like you can create chances.”

Those chances are coming, and Matthews is cashing in on them. No wonder he has earned coach Mike Babcock’s trust.

”He’s a good player trying to get better each and every day,” Babcock said. ”What I like about him is how hard he works and how competitive he is and how much he wants to get better. The best players in the league, the superstars, they love hockey more than everyone else, so they can work at it harder and longer than the next guy.”

Matthews downplays his own improvements but sounds like a perfect Babcock-type player when discussing his early-season success.

”I feel good,” Matthews said. ”Just a couple weeks in, so you want to find that consistency individually, with your linemates, with everybody. You just want to continue to get better every day.”

MORE FROM NHL ON NBC SPORTS:

 

Report: Work permit issues could keep Auston Matthews in North America next season

11 Comments

Auston Matthews, the top rated prospect for the 2016 NHL Draft, is likely staying in North America for the 2015-16 season.

According to Pete Judge of ISS, Matthews likely won’t be able to play in Switzerland due to work permit issues. Judge reported on Twitter Sunday that the 17-year-old is having troubles getting a visa because he’s never played professionally before.

Matthews was looking to sign in Europe with ZSC in Switzerland. ZSC is currently coached my former NHLer Marc Crawford.

The Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League own Matthews’ CHL rights. His agent Pat Brisson has hinted in the past that if Europe doesn’t work, his client would likely head to the WHL.

Matthews appeared in 24 games with the U.S. National Under-18 Team during the 2014-15 season scoring 20 goals and 48 points.

Eichel headlines U.S. junior evaluation camp roster

Jack Eichel highlights Team USA’s national junior evaluation camp roster, which was unveiled on Thursday.

Eichel, who captained the 2015 U.S. world junior squad, is one of 11 players from this year’s tournament invited to the camp, which takes place Aug. 1-8, in Lake Placid, New York.

Rangers’ prospect Brandon Halverson returns in goal while Brandon Carlo, Ryan Collins, Noah Hanifin and Zach Werenski were all a part of the Americans’ blue line at the 2015 tournament.

Dylan Larkin, Auston Matthews, Sonny Milano, Nick Schmaltz and Alex Tuch along with Eichel were among the U.S. forward group at this year’s tournament.

Eichel is also one of 18 invited players eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft next week in Florida.

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE ENTIRE ROSTER

Matthews, who will likely spend the 2015-16 season playing professionally in Europe, is the top rated prospect for the 2016 NHL Draft. Five players invited are eligible for next year’s draft.

The Americans have medaled in three of the past six world junior tournaments. The U.S. took home gold medals in 2013 and 2010, and bronze in 2011. Team USA finished fifth at the 2015 event.

The 2016 world junior championship takes place in Helsinki, Finland from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5.

Related: Here’s the full 2015 NHL Entry Draft order