In all likelihood, Zurich centreman Auston Matthews will become the first player since Wendell Clark to be selected first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs at an NHL Entry Draft. Some hot takes might be written about how the Leafs should select Patrik Laine, particularly if the big Finnish forward outperforms Matthews at the upcoming World Championships. Matthews should be the guy no matter what though and we all know it.
So how did the American-born forward react to the Maple Leafs’ big draft lottery win on Saturday night? Well he wasn’t exactly banging pots with a spoon out the window, even if he didn’t quite grimace like McDavid at the thought of wintering in the big smoke.
“Very nerve racking, a lot of mixed emotions, but it’s pretty exciting to be a part of,” Matthews said, in answer to a question about the draft lottery process itself.
So… Is the fact that Matthews doesn’t share Leafs Nation’s massive enthusiasm for Saturday night’s events something to worry about?
Sorry for giving you the ‘read more’ cliffhanger, because the answer here is obvious: Not even a little bit. Matthews was on a tape delay from Finland, where it was 3 a.m., at the time. He’s probably dog tired and his reaction to a question that wasn’t even about Toronto or the Maple Leafs specifically gives us literally zero damn insight into what’s going on in his head. And it’s certainly nothing to worry about.
“It’s nice to have a little bit of clarity, though you know, nothing is set in stone,” Matthews continued. “We’re still a ways away from the draft so I’m just trying to stay in the moment right now, enjoy my time here and focus on the World Championships.”
Matthews didn’t say a word specifically about Toronto or the Maple Leafs during his brief, videolink teleconference with Canada’s hockey-watching public. We might also note that there’s a level of modesty that’s expected in hockey culture. Matthews wasn’t even willing to acknowledge that he’s the consensus top prospect on the board at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft!
Update: Though Matthews had nothing specifically to say about Toronto on the Sportsnet broadcast, he did call the possibility “special” when discussing things with TSN’s James Duthie (as pointed out in the comments).
“The idea of playing in Toronto, if they were to choose me, it’s pretty exciting,” Matthews said on TSN on Saturday, courtesy Josh Gold-Smith of theScore. “It would be very special.”
“It’s the hockey mecca of the world,” Matthews continued. “They have one of the best coaches in the league and it’s a very exciting place to play. Their fans are very passionate and I think everybody really enjoys watching them play.”
So yeah, there is zero cause for concern here. It’s barely worth mentioning, except for the fact that we all know this is going to be mentioned frequently over the next 24 hours.
Toronto is a pretty great town. Even if Matthews doesn’t immediately fall for the city when he arrives in the late summer, he’ll surely fall for the additional endorsement money he’s due to make just by virtue of wearing that Maple Leafs crest on his sweater. Let’s not make mountains out of molehills here.
Although if we insisted on building a molehill mountain, or a range of molehill mountains even, perhaps we could focus on Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan, who admitted that going through the draft lottery process’ rattled’ him.
“I’m just still a little bit rattled from this whole experience,” Shanahan said on the Sportsnet broadcast following his club’s big lottery win. “That was a pretty tense moment for all of us. Just to get into the final three, even, with Columbus, Winnipeg and us – we all felt pretty good that we were getting a good player..
“We earned this the hard way,” Shanahan continued. “It wasn’t a whole lot of fun this year.”
Look if Shanahan can’t hold up under the heat and tension of a televised lottery process, how is he going to go toe-to-toe with rival NHL executives or the likes of Kurt Overhardt and Don Meehan in a tough negotiation?
See how silly it is in another context to make way too much of the specific words said by someone reacting in real time to a major event on live television? So let’s not do it with Matthews, how about?