When you’re comparing Connor McDavid to other NHLers, the first one who comes to mind is Sidney Crosby. Which player is the best in the NHL?
You may also compare him to Jack Eichel, who was taken with the pick after McDavid in 2015, is similarly leading a team in recovery mode and a year away from a big money contract kicking in.
Now, with the start Auston Matthews is off to in his career, a 40-goal season under his belt and scoring at a near 50-goal pace as a sophomore, he’s going to hear comparisons to McDavid which will only get louder if the Leafs return to the playoffs and do some damage.
Mats Sundin ranks the young Maple Leafs star right alongside the Oilers captain who many claim is already the best player in the world.
“I won’t compare him to me,” Sundin told the Toronto Star’s Rosie Dimanno. “I will say it’s fantastic watching him play, seeing a young man maturing, developing even from last year, and he’s hardly even started his career yet. I have him right up there with Connor McDavid. The Leafs have waited so long to have a young franchise player to build around. He’s that player.”
The former Maple Leafs captain said he sees a lot of great leadership skills in the 20-year-old Matthews. Sundin said he looked to the likes of Scott Niedermayer, Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom and Joe Sakic on how to be a quiet and effective leader in the NHL. It’s not always about yelling and cheering up your teammates — Sundin said being a leader is about doing your job first in games and practice to set an example, and caring about your teammates and the staff working for a team.
“In my book, (Matthews is) obviously the right person to be captain, no doubt about that. He leads on the ice and you can tell he’s a good man off the ice,” Sundin said.
For 13 seasons, Sundin was the big, productive No. 1 centre who could dominate opponents that it took the Leafs eight years to find after he left the team in 2008. Matthews fell into the team’s lap with the first overall pick in 2016 and it’s set up an optimistic future.
Sundin never reached the Stanley Cup Final with the Leafs and was eliminated in the Eastern Conference Final twice. For most of his tenure the Leafs were a competitive team, but they missed the playoffs in each of his last three seasons, which led to dark times and a top-down rebuild.
Now on the other side of it, Sundin is excited for the Leafs, their fans and the possibilities the future brings.
“Brendan Shanahan has done a terrific job with the organization, brought in a great GM. If there’s any city and any fans in the world that deserve this kind of a team, it’s Toronto,” Sundin said. “They’re young, all kinds of talent, really a lot of wonderful things going on. It’s been great to watch from the sidelines. It’s going to be a great future in the next few years as a Toronto Maple Leaf fan.”