If there is a shred of doubt that the Toronto Maple Leafs will be selecting Auston Matthews first overall at the NHL Draft, you can go ahead and dispose of that now.
According to IIHF World Championship correspondent Morgan Rielly, Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock spent a great deal of time with the No. 1–ranked prospect over in Russia.
“He spent more time talking to him than he was talking to me, so I was a bit jealous,” Rielly quipped on Hockey Central at Noon Wednesday. “I said, ‘Babs, he’s not on our team yet. I’d like to talk to you. How was the travel?'”
Babcock’s time is valuable. He wouldn’t waste it talking to the future property of the Winnipeg Jets, would he?
Gold medals make your jokes funnier and envy more palatable.
Rielly and Team Canada twice defeated Matthews and Team USA. The 22-year-old Leafs defenceman and apple of Babcock’s eye played a significant role in Canada’s World Championship victory, registering three points and a plus-7 rating in the tournament. He also got an up-close look at future teammate Matthews.
“He’s big. We were all at one hotel, and he was cruising around the hotel and he was way bigger than I thought,” Rielly said. “Smart player, skates well, can shoot it. Babs was over there [in Russia], too. Probably three days I was cruising through the hotel lobby and Babs and Auston Matthews were sitting there talking. So he certainly did his job.”
Interestingly, when we asked Toronto’s 1985 No. 1 overall pick, Wendel Clark, whom Matthews should turn to as a mentor next fall, Clark instantly pointed to Rielly.
“Rielly is one of your best role models. He’s learned well and played hard. He’s still a young guy, but he’s got three years under his belt,” Clark said. “He’s one of the main role models. He’s seen it. He was drafted here.”
Rielly raved about how close the Canadian players — so often enemies on NHL ice — grew over a short period of time and how much fun they had playing in Europe. Still, he knows those new friendships will be put on hold once the regular season starts up again.
“I would say [Corey] Perry’s one of the greasier guys on the team, but [the player] most likely to not care and high-stick you or slash you would be Brad Marchand,” Rielly said. “I may have to give him one back.”
Rielly was wise enough to plead the fifth when asked if he wanted to become the next Maple Leafs captain or whom he would pick — Matthews or Patrik Laine — if he was in Lou Lamoriello’s shoes.
“I know if I answer that, I’ll probably get in trouble,” he said.
The defenceman’s golden off-season also includes a shiny, new six-year contract extension. Thursday the Vancouver native heads to Whistler for a deserved but brief vacation before looking ahead to 2016-17.
“Jake [Gardiner]’s been working out for months already,” Rielly said. “So it’s almost like you have to get right back in the gym.”