So yes, Auston Matthews is clearly a generational talent and slightly more gifted than Jack Eichel
So we’re a week into the NHL’s long vaunted World Cup of Hockey. After seeming years of lead up and doubt as to whether the old Canada Cup that morphed into the WCH would ever come back, it’s here.
Coincidentally, the NHL and the Olympic comittee are at each other’s throats in regards to paying expenses and future participation at Seoul in 2018, so enter the World Cup. This might be the new world order for quite some time: best-on-best “Olympic-lite” tournament hockey, but entirely an NHL product.
Some things have unfolded very much as expected. Russia’s offence is streaky and mercurial, led by the surly, snarling incredibly gifted street-urchin looking Russian who shall remain nameless just because we all know his freaking name. The Czechs play a steady skilled game but just are never deep enough. The Finns are always a threat. Sweden is stacked from top to bottom but somehow will find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Canada is a super team of demigods, hardly having faced much adversity at any point in their three games.
There have been some surprises. America: waddup? The 0–3 showing, no matter how Torterella and Lombardi want to spin it, is memorably embarassing. As in, this will be talked about for years. What were you thinking? There is so much talk we have heard about Team America not being able to compete even if they had Phil Kessel, Shattenkirk, Okposo and the handful of young stars that were inexplicably left off the roster. Our take? You have got to be joking. That team would have been ten times more amazing than what was iced here at the World Cup. Scratching Dustin Byfuglien for the first game in favor of Jack Johnson? In what world does Jack Johnson get a roster spot over a whirling behemoth of skill and rage like the linebacker-sized Minnesotan? And then to flame out like petulant punks in the last game to the Czechs? Like, ew.
More surprises: the poise and sage grace of Team Europe, at the dawn of the tourney a pitied rag-tag collection of misfits born with the misfortune of not being Russian, Finnish, Swedish or Czech. No longer: they have opened some eyes. Vets like Hossa and Chara are playing inspired hockey, and boy does young Leon Draisaitl ever look like the well-oiled German tank that he was advertised to be.
But we all know the story of the tourney so far has been Team North America and specifically the just-turned-19-years-old baby-faced manchild named Auston Matthews.
Lets take a moment here for a second. Granted, this is a confluence of crazy coincidences and events that have led us to this moment in time. The World Cup is being played again for the first time in 12 years. 19 years ago, a Mexican woman and an American man gave birth to a baby boy and named him Auston. Living in balmy Phoenix Arizona, young Auston slowly decides he’s going to put in his 10000 hours on hockey. Somehow, without access to the expensive ice-time, summer skills camps, or travel teams that kids like Mitch Marner got, Auston starts to get really good and almost single-handedly turns himself into a #1 draft pick in the NHL.
And to top it all off, he’s good. Like, generationally good. We cannot remember the last time an 18 year old was able to play with men at the pro level with such command and confidence since, well, Connor McDavid. Matthews is otherworldly good, silky, smooth, the definition of elite but relentless on the puck and eye-poppingly tenacious on defense.
Translation: we have not seen a total package like this in Toronto, ever. With all respect to our beloved greats Mats Sundin, Borje Salming, George Armstrong, Dave Keon, Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald … none of them were capable of coming in at 18 and playing with the level of hockey acumen that Auston Matthews has shown in six games (3 exhibition, 3 tournament) here at the World Cup.
Eichel: he’s been good. He’s had his touches. He’s an incredible skater. Skates with confidence and assuredness. He’s a fantastic hockey player.
But he’s just not Matthews. It’s clear at this point that Auston Matthews would have been the second overall pick were he in the ’15 NHL draft. It’s McDavid, Matthews, Eichel. That should have been put to rest by now.
Can’t wait to see Auston blow into Leafs camp next week. Wow. Just. Wow.