Auston Matthews: ‘I’d feel ready’ for Leafs’ captaincy if asked

Toronto Maple Leafs Analyst Jim Ralph joined the Jeff Blair Show to discuss the captaincy, and why one hasn't been named yet.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have had a captain-by-committee approach over the past two seasons, and with the 2018-19 campaign still more than a month away, there’s no rush to stitch a letter to anyone’s sweater just yet.

But still, the question has been popular one in the hockey-crazed Canadian market, especially following the signing of Toronto native and former New York Islanders captain John Tavares, whom many believe should take on the captaincy ahead of his first season playing for his hometown team.

Others have pointed to third-year centreman Auston Matthews, dubbed the future of the franchise since the lottery balls lined up in the Maple Leafs’ favour, as the man to lead the club as captain.

Matthews was asked about the possibility of wearing the “C” in an interview with The Athletic‘s Jonas Siegel, which was published Tuesday, and said he’d “feel ready” if management asked him.

“Yeah, I would tell them yeah. I’d tell them I’d feel ready,” Matthews told Siegel (subscription required). “I don’t know what they’re thinking about doing, what they want to do. Obviously John has been the captain in New York for a while. So I don’t know what they’re thinking or what their whole ideal situation is for that. But I don’t think it really changes much, whether you have a letter or not, for myself or anybody. I go lead by example, on the ice, off the ice, and being a good teammate is a big part of that, too.”

In the interview, the 20-year-old also shared some insight into his off-season training and cleared up some early-summer storylines surrounding his relationship with head coach Mike Babcock and his response to the Maple Leafs’ signing of John Tavares. Here are five brief takeaways from the interview:

He tallied 29 assists in each of his first two seasons, but wants plenty more this year.

“There’s tons of things that you can look back on and you want to improve on. For myself, like I want to have more assists than I have goals, and obviously that hasn’t been the case the last two years.”

He’s studying smaller players in an effort to be more elusive with the puck.

“I know I’m a big player and I can protect the puck, but when you throw that into it – like you look at guys like [Patrick] Kane and [Johnny] Gaudreau, and those guys, and even [Mitch] Marner and [William Nylander], they’re so shifty, they’re tough to hit. So as a big guy, I want to be able to do that as well as being able to protect the puck in the corner and get my shot off and be in a good position with the puck and be [able] to get away from guys quick and be tough to hit and tough to play against.”

He’s “so happy” the Maple Leafs signed Tavares in free agency, and dismissed the narrative that he was upset about it.

“I definitely wasn’t upset at all. It was pretty much exactly the opposite. I’m so happy. I called him beforehand and you don’t want to be an annoyance because you probably figure everybody’s calling him. I think the big thing for me was just letting him know I wanted him here — everybody wants him here.”

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He believes the frenzy of storylines that came out of head coach Mike Babcock’s Arizona visit earlier this off-season was blown out of proportion.

“Obviously coaches, players, they’re not going to agree on everything and I think that was the case. And I think it’s just blowing up because it’s Toronto. I think it would’ve been a little better if it was kept hush-hush, but obviously it didn’t and it just blew (up) into another, I guess, pointless story that people looked too much into. But that’s all it was. It was just a discussion to make sure we’re all on the same page and we move forward.”

He measures himself against the league’s best: Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid.

“Yeah, absolutely. I want to be on their level. I believe I am and that I can be.”

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