To the surprise of few, the Toronto Maple Leafs used the first overall selection at the 2016 NHL Draft on center Auston Matthews, the player widely regarded as the draft’s top prospect. The talented center competed in Switzerland last season, but he should be a strong candidate to make the Maple Leafs roster for the start of the 2016-17 season.
Despite the lack of drama surrounding the pick, Matthews still went through some of the wave of emotions experienced by most players chosen in the draft. The fact that the draft was taking place in front of the vocal fans of the draft’s hosts and one of Toronto’s top rivals, the Buffalo Sabres, may have added to emotional impact.
“My heart was beating as I was walking up there, but very nerve-racking,” admitted Matthews. “Once they called my name, it was definitely a sigh of relief. A lot of excitement. My family, they’re with me, so it was a pretty unbelievable feeling.”
Matthews will be competing in a market that is arguably one of the most passionate hockey towns in the NHL. His coach with the ZSC Lions this past season, recently hired Ottawa Senators associate coach Marc Crawford, gave him some advice about playing under the microscope in Toronto.
“They’re very passionate, very under the microscope, obviously with the media and everything,” related Matthews. “But [Crawford] said if eventually I go there, it would be a blast. Now that I’m a part of the organization, I couldn’t be happier.”
The Scottsdale, AZ native will be joining a pool of prospects that is one of the more talented groups among the 30 NHL clubs. Matthews has at least some awareness of the talent he will be joining in that organization.
“Yeah, absolutely [it’s exciting],” enthused Matthews. “I mean, those young guys, William Nylander and Mitch Marner, obviously two pretty special players, so I think it’s definitely exciting kind of looking forward.”
Some of Matthews’ comments following his selection by the Maple Leafs are captured in this Hockey’s Future video, which can be viewed below (apologies for Pointing Guy on the right).