LOS ANGELES – Over the NHL’s All-Star Weekend, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews crammed in a lot of experiences.
He met Justin Bieber. He posted the second-fastest time in the accuracy shooting competition. He went head-to-head with Sidney Crosby in the 3-on-3 competition Sunday in his Atlantic Division’s 10-6 loss to the Metropolitan Division. He also scored a goal while playing alongside the game’s biggest names.
“You learn so much. You’re surrounded by great hockey players,” said Michel Therrien, who coached the Atlantic Division and Matthews. “I coached Sidney Crosby at 18 years old and being part of all those things helped him to understand about the NHL and especially that (All-Star) weekend.”
Matthews has shown a quick study in his first season. His 39 points in 47 games ranks second amongst league rookies. His 23 goals are tied for the third-most total in the NHL. But he still has much to learn and those around him tried to do their best to help with his superstar development.
On Sunday, Therrien wasted no time in putting the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft against Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, saying he thought it would be good for the league to play its present against its future.
“You look over and it’s a couple of good players on the other side for sure,” Matthews said. “They were off to a hot start there and then we kind of came back and they kind of piled it on us at the end there, but it was a fun game.”
On Sunday the local crowd at Staples Center showed their support for Matthews with loud cheers. Matthews grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona – a five hour drive from Los Angeles – and he is seen as a major success story from non-traditional hockey markets.
“I got a nice cheer for sure,” Matthews said while smirking.
Matthews’ day wasn’t completely smooth. He had a breakaway against Metropolitan Division goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and lost the puck before he could get a shot off. But Matthews redeemed himself when he got the puck in the slot by himself and fired it past Metropolitan Division goaltender Braden Holtby for his only point of the game.
“There’s so much space out there. I think with all-star weekend these are some of the best players in the world, so everybody is really skilled and I think 3-on-3 really brings that out,” Matthews said.
Most importantly for Matthews, he was in proximity to some of the league’s best players. He said he spent time hanging out with Crosby, Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon and got to meet some of the NHL’s greats who were there as part of the league’s top 100 players celebration.
“To be able to be surrounded by those great hockey players, you leave that weekend and you’re going to go back home and say ‘what a weekend that was,’” Therrien said.
Seeing Matthews up close drew compliments and comparisons to Crosby from Therrien who coached the Penguins superstar from 2005 until 2009.
“It’s the same thing I knew of Sid at 18 years old off the ice. He’s a calm kid. He was relaxed. He was focused. On the ice he’s gifted. He’s really, really gifted,” Therrien said.
After the weekend full of stars and stories it’s back to the NHL grind for Matthews. The Maple Leafs have 55 points, just one out of both the final Wild Card spot and last Atlantic Division playoff spot. Toronto has three games in hand on the Flyers for the Wild Card and five on the Bruins in the division.
“It was a nice weekend, a great experience, get some rest and it’s back to work for us,” Matthews said. “We’re still kind of in that level position for a playoff spot so you just want to continue to move forward with our young group and continue to get better.
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