Team North America has already been the talk of the World Cup of Hockey, and NHL Insider Pierre LeBrun shared his early observations on Auston Matthews.
“Looks like he’s already played a year in the NHL was how he looked to me,” LeBrun noted during a Friday midday appearance on Toronto’s TSN 1050. “Man. Just zero hesitation in his thought process it looks like. Just looks really poised out there. I’ll just say it – reminds me a lot of a young McDavid a year ago. So that bodes well for Leafs fans for sure, although no one looks as fast as Connor McDavid last night. Oh my goodness.
“It’s interesting to see McDavid cut to the net like he did a few times last night and totally turn around the European defenseman. It’s obviously his play. It’s the play that he got hurt on last year against Philadelphia, but it’s a play that makes him just so dynamic being able to cut in on that angle while still not losing any speed. It’s breathtaking to watch.”
LeBrun believes last spring’s world championships was ‘a real important moment’ for Matthews, where he skated for Team USA.
“First of all, he’s playing against NHL players mostly,” recounted LeBrun. “And I can tell you, I don’t think that Peter Chiarelli and Stan Bowman had any intention of putting him on the World Cup team until they saw him at the worlds. And that just changed everything.
“Again, he appeared on that stage against older, professional players like he belonged. And again, reading plays like he’s been around for a long time. Just a really special player.
“I don’t know about the idea of having played in Switzerland last year, but it did allow him to play pro hockey against some pretty good players. Maybe that will end up being pretty good for him. Although sometimes you can develop bad habits on the bigger ice, in terms of holding onto the puck too long. But I don’t see that in him right now. I think he’s making a really good adjustment.
“There’s just so many kids to watch on that team. I mean, Nathan MacKinnon is sort of like the guy everyone forgets now. It’s been all about McDavid and Eichel over the past year. Now Auston Matthews will get a lot of the limelight. I think people forget Nathan MacKinnon isn’t old. It’s just that he’s been in the league since he was 18 – and barely 18. He was a really young NHLer.
“I was watching him last night as he scored twice. I wonder if this tournament is a chance for him to remind people – ‘Hey, people. Remember me? I’m pretty good too.’ So that’s another interesting angle to it all.”
This being Toronto radio, the obligatory Tavares-to-Leafs discussion was required to take place.
“I get zero inclination from talking to Tavares that the Leafs are on his mind,” said LeBrun. “Now, would he actually share it with us if they were? I can’t imagine he would. But at the same time, our job in this profession is to try and read body language and decipher between the lines. I really think that he wants to be an Islander for life.
“Now having said that, things have not been ideal in the last year or two, and the move to Brooklyn has been nothing short of a disaster. New ownership. So the new ownership is on the clock now. I think the next 12 months are really important for the new owners of the Islanders to prove where they are in terms of spending, in terms of the commitment to winning, and the commitment to making things better. So that’s why it’s interesting from that perspective.”
Where would LeBrun guess the Islanders will be located in five years: Brooklyn, Long Island, or another market?
“It wouldn’t surprise me if they find their way back to the Island one day. I don’t know if it fits your five-year timeframe,” surmised LeBrun. “But I really think that I just don’t see Brooklyn as a long-term fit, in my opinion. Unless they make some drastic changes. But I do think with new ownership – could they make Long Island work, where the team should be. I mean, it’s not easy. It wasn’t easy for the previous owner. But that would be the betting money for me.”
Source: TSN 1050/ Transcript: Nichols