Team North America hits the ice for the first time in Toronto today, as they prepare for their opening match against Finland. While many eyes are drawn to Oilers’ superstar Connor McDavid or the reunion of Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon – the two starred together for the Halifax Mooseheads before being drafted – it was Auston Matthews that got much of the attention at this morning’s presser.
Matthews will be skating on the top line alongside McDavid and Mark Scheifele, despite never having played a professional game on North American soil. He’ll be in front of his new team’s fans, trying to make an impression on Leaf Nation before the season even begins. According to Craig Custance of ESPN, Head coach Todd McLellan spoke highly of Matthews when asked, saying he is hockey’s version of a 5-tool player (a term in baseball that means a player who can do everything well), and saying “he’s got better every day.”
As we wrote yesterday, Matthews is a big part of the Maple Leafs rebuild, and he’s showing why he was the first overall pick and most talked about prospect during the season. If he can keep up with the best in the world, at just 19 years old, he’ll be well positioned to have a long and successful career in the NHL.
- Team USA head coach John Tortorella is still taking a lot of heat today over his decision to bench Kyle Palmieri and Dustin Byfuglien prior to last night’s loss to Team Europe, and as the team hit the ice for practice the lines had already been mixed up. According to Terry Koshan of the Toronto Sun, Palmieri was back among the first 12 forwards, skating with Max Pacioretty and Brandon Dubinsky on the fourth line. Stephen Whyno adds that Byfuglien – widely expected to be a big part of the top pairing – is back skating with the powerplay unit (though the second group).
- James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail revealed an interesting couple of tidbits that had been just rumored so far regarding the structure of the World Cup. First, he reported that an original idea for the tournament was to have two Canadian teams, because of the strong depth the country has; he goes on to list P.K. Subban, Kris Letang, Mark Giordano, Taylor Hall and many others as examples of the talent “Canada B” would have. Second, he says that it’s widely believed that the tournament will return to an eight-country format in 2020, meaning that teams like Slovakia, Switzerland and Germany will all have chances. He doesn’t, however, mention if Team Europe or North America will return, though with good showings from both thus far, it would be surprising to see them removed.