While most of his peers are enjoying a mid-season vacation, Auston Matthews is in San Jose for the 2019 NHL All-Star Game after being voted in as captain of the Atlantic Division team. One all-star calibre player absent from the festivities, however, is his Toronto Maple Leafs teammate Mitchell Marner.
Although Matthews won’t get to skate alongside Marner in Saturday’s three-on-three tournament – he’ll have to settle for Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner, David Pastrnak and John Tavares as the other Team Atlantic forwards – he did recently get a taste of what it’s like playing an entire game with the talented winger.
Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock switched up his team’s forward lines ahead of Wednesday’s game against the Washington Capitals and it paid dividends. While it was the trio of Nazem Kadri, William Nylander and Connor Brown who stole the show in a 6-3 win, Matthews and Marner each scored and the third-year centre said he enjoyed skating alongside Marner and Patrick Marleau.
“I liked it,” Matthews said Friday during an appearance on Hockey Central at Noon. “Mitch is an unbelievable player and we have a great relationship off the ice, as well as Patty. I love playing with him. I haven’t really gotten the chance to play with him really at all five-on-five our first 2 1/2 years.
“He’s a special player. He makes guys around him better and for a guy that likes to shoot,” Matthews said referring to himself, “he’s as good as anybody at setting people up for goals. He’s just a fun guy to be around, fun guy to play with.”
Matthews, who will participate in the accuracy shooting competition during Friday night’s 2019 SAP NHL All-Star Skills showcase, has found the back of the net 21 times in 35 contests this season. That puts him seventh in the NHL in goals per game, one spot behind Tavares. An impressive rate considering Matthews had scored just once in the 13 games prior to facing the Caps.
Playing with Marner seemed to give him a spark.
“I don’t know what the lines are going to look like after this break but I’m not really too worried about it,” Matthews added. “Whoever Babs puts me with, whatever lines he goes with, I’m going to probably be playing with a pretty good player but there’s not too many guys that are of Mitch’s calibre — even in the NHL. His raw skill and talent, his vision, just what he can do on the ice not many people can do.”
Marner is currently eighth in league scoring with 62 points through 49 games. Both he and Matthews, if you hadn’t heard, are pending restricted free agents in need of new contracts prior to the start of the 2019-20 campaign.