As high as Leafs Nation’s hopes were, Matthews exceeded all of them, barreling out of the gates with a four-goal debut and finishing the season with 40 goals and 29 assists for a 69-point rookie campaign—all without missing a single game. He added four goals and an assist during the Leafs’ six post-season games against the Washington Capitals.
His efforts were recognized Wednesday night as the 19-year-old won the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year, the first Maple Leaf to receive the honour since Brit Selby in 1966. Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman Zach Werenski and Winnipeg Jets winger (and the No. 2 draft pick behind Matthews) Patrik Laine were the other finalists.
So, what might be the next milestone for Matthews? Many in the hockey world believe it starts with a ‘C.’
In an interview on Prime Time Sports Friday, Matthews was asked about the idea of being named captain.
“It would be a privilege and honour,” Matthews said. “If you look at the line of captains that have come before us, the players that have come before us, it would definitely be a pretty big honour.”
Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock indicated at his end-of-season media availability that it wasn’t a priority for the team to name a captain, and for now, it’s not front-of-mind for Matthews, either.
“It’s not really something I really get into or think about too much,” he said. “I want to be a leader regardless of if I have a letter on my sweater or not.”
The Leafs have been without a captain since Dion Phaneuf was traded to Ottawa ahead of the 2016 deadline. Toronto brass opted to go with four alternate captains for 2016-17: Tyler Bozak, Matt Hunwick, Leo Komarov and Morgan Rielly. Both Rielly and Matthews seems like logical options to be the franchise’s next leader, but the club hasn’t said whether there will be a captain for 2017-18, letalone mention names.
“I don’t know what the management or the coaches, what they’re thinking as far as that goes,” Matthews said. “I just want to play hockey and help the team win.”
The centreman has resumed his on-ice workouts after taking a month away from the rink, starting with about two weeks of rest and recovery.
“I’ve been on the ice a couple times, a little more than two times a week now and as the summer kind of goes on, it’s flying by, that’ll continue to be a little more but for now it’s couple times a week,” he said.
Matthews described his off-season training regimen, which he had discussed with head coach Mike Babcock.
“I want to be a little bit more explosive as far as skating goes, being able to change speeds a little quicker,” said Matthews. “Those were kind of the key points that I wanted to work on, and [coach Babcock] kind of had the same thoughts as me.
“I mean obviously the 200-foot game, play without the puck, that could always use improving, as well as everything,” said Matthews. “I want to be a complete player. Just because you’re good at some things doesn’t mean you can’t be better at them.”