Maple Leafs: Is Auston Matthews More Lindros Than McDavid?

Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /

Despite being the consensus No.1 pick, it’s not a given that Auston Matthews will play for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

If (and when) the Toronto Maple Leafs draft Auston Matthews with the first overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24 in Buffalo, it is not a given that he will ever skate out onto the ice at the Air Canada Centre on a Saturday night wearing the famed blue and white jersey of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Many Leaf fans already have Matthews penciled into the lineup sheet playing alongside Nazem Kadri and frothing at the mouth at the prospect of the two of them skating circles around the Eastern Conference. Perhaps even becoming Toronto’s version of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, leading the Leafs to multiple Stanley Cup appearances over the next decade.

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Slow down Leafs nation.

For several years now, Matthews has defied the traditional path that most elite hockey players from across Canada and the United States have taken to the NHL. In North America, exceptional young hockey players play elite minor hockey for a local triple-A club, get drafted by a storied junior hockey franchise in the CHL (Canadian Hockey League) and then play junior hockey for three or four years, do whatever the coaches tell you to do, work on your skills and toughness and hopefully then you’ll get a shot at the big time and play in the NHL.

That is the path traveled by most NHL players for decades, unless of course your name is Auston Matthews, or Eric Lindros.

The same way that Lindros and his father dictated when and where Eric would play his junior and NHL hockey, Matthews and his father have followed a similar path.

Lindros was originally drafted by the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL, but refused to play there and forced a trade to the Oshawa Generals. Lindros was then drafted first overall in the 1991 NHL draft by the Quebec Nordiques and refused to play there as well and forced a trade to the Philadelphia Flyers.

Matthews was drafted by the Everett Silvertips of the WHL and refused to play there, opting instead to play for the US National Team Development Program. Then Matthews once again ignored the traditional path and spurned many of the elite NCAA hockey programs, opting to play his draft year in Switzerland against grown men and bending the traditional path once again.

Lou Lamoriello, Brendan Shanahan and Mike Babcock have been publicly courting Matthews and selling the Maple Leafs franchise to him through the media for months, but Matthews response has been more akin to a very attractive woman trying to find something positive to say to her girlfriends about that guy she has kept in the friend zone for months who is a “really nice guy.”

Matthews is young man born in California and raised in Arizona and it is not a given that the idea of living in sub-zero temperatures — and being subjected to the most demanding media market of any city in the NHL — appeals to him as a place to spend a good chuck of his adult life.

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Leafs fans should begin to prepare themselves for the possibility that Matthews may not turn out to be the second coming of Connor McDavid, but rather the second coming of Eric Lindros.