While today is Independence Day in the United States, Arizona native Auston Matthews spoke to a gathering of Toronto media that was just as frenzied as any fireworks display.
The 2016 first-overall selection at the NHL Entry Draft is one of 41 invitees to the Leafs’ development camp, which runs from July 4-9. Matthews was among the first group of skaters that took to the ice Monday morning at MasterCard Centre. The day’s activities included an initial on-ice skating session that lasted about 15 minutes, and also medical evaluations and meetings with nutritionists.
“This is the hockey mecca of the world,” Matthews said. “It’s always nice to soak it all in, as much as possible.”
Matthews is rooming with Ukranian-born, Swedish-trained Dmytro Timashov, the Leafs’ fifth-round pick in 2015. The two players were adversaries at the 2016 World Junior Championship in Finland. Sweden trumped the United States 1-0 in the preliminary round, but the Americans got their revenge with an 8-3 drubbing in the bronze medal game.
“I don’t know him personally, but obviously rooming with him and getting to know him – he’s a pretty nice guy,” Matthews said of Timashov. “He’s pretty quiet, but speaks English well. I’ve only known him for ten hours, but I’m sure I’ll get to know him, and the others, much better.”
Matthews remains unsigned as of Monday. Seemingly unfazed by the glare of the Toronto spotlight, Matthews is slated to make his Air Canada Centre debut as a professional not as a Leaf, but as a member of Team North America for the World Cup of Hockey in September.
While it may seem uncanny to label Matthews, at just 18 years of age, a veteran of the U.S. national team, his resume bleeds red, white and blue. He compiled three points in five games when the Under-20 championship was staged in Toronto and Montreal in 2015, following up his performance at the same tournament a year later, with seven goals and 11 points in seven games for the bronze medal-winning team in Helsinki.
For an encore, Matthews registered nine points in ten outings for Team USA at the senior World Championship in Russia last May.
During his tenure representing his country, Matthews has played with fellow Leaf camp invitees Jeremy Bracco, JD Greenway, and Joseph Woll as teammates.
The Leafs head to Niagara Falls for the next four days before concluding the week back at MasterCard Centre on Saturday for a scrimmage game.
“We want to come in here and learn as much as possible. It’s a special feeling to put on the Maple Leafs sweater,” Matthews said.