The Maple Leafs added a talent of note in selecting Auston Matthews first overall at the 2016 NHL entry draft, and took the next step forward with him Thursday in signing him to an entry-level, three-year contract. And for Toronto GM Lou Lamoriello, the organization’s comfort level with the 18-year-old could not be better.
“Watching how he has handled himself throughout the process prior to the draft and post-draft, the comfortability from my end of it and our organization is exceptional,” Lamoriello said in a media conference call in regard to his relationship with Matthews. “(The contract) was never in question from our end of it, (and) I don’t think from Auston’s end of it. It was just “when” (it was finalized). And the agreement took place, within, I would say 10 minutes of the first conversation that (Matthews’ agent) Pat Brisson and I had when we talked about Auston’s contract.”
Although some zealous people wanted Matthews signed to a contract within seconds of the Leafs calling his name in Buffalo during the June 24 draft, Lamoriello said there was no reason to rush into anything, especially considering Matthews’ draft slot and the skills and work ethic that got him there.
From the perspective of both sides, the result they arrived at Thursday was never in doubt.
“This was never an issue at any point,” Lamoriello said of a deal. “Auston was No. 1 overall – the agreement that he has with the Toronto Maple Leafs and his contract, he’s earned this. He deserves what he is getting. And there was never a question from us on this.”
Currently at his home in Arizona, Matthews echoed Lamoriello’s sentiments regarding the contract process.
“It feels good,” Matthews said of his new deal. “To me, it was never an issue or a concern. But now that I’ve signed and everything’s been agreed upon, it’s definitely a pretty special feeling.”
After Matthews takes a few weeks to decompress and spend time with family, he’ll return to Toronto to work with Leafs development consultant Darryl Belfry and prepare to take part in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. There will be a sizeable spotlight that is bound to accompany him through that period – and for all of his time in one of hockey’s biggest meccas – but Matthews won’t be asked by the team to do anything other than be himself.
“We all know what Auston is capable of,” Lamoriello said of Matthews, who’ll suit up for Team North America at the World Cup. “We have no pressure on Auston to do this, that or the other. We want him to come into (Leafs training) camp as comfortable as he possibly can. He knows we believe in him. It’s obvious – he was picked No. 1 overall. We just want him to be himself – not to try and do something out of the ordinary, just do what he’s been doing for the number of years he’s been playing, and allow the end result to take care of itself.”
Matthews has had approximately one month to acclimate to life as a Leaf, and already finds himself impressed by the vastness and dedication of Buds fans thrilled to see him wearing Blue and White.
“It’s very impressive,” Matthews said of Leafs Nation. “It’s pretty amazing, to have a scrimmage at development camp that was open to the public in Niagara Falls, an hour-and-a-half away from Toronto, (and fans) packed the arena (and) fans waited outside after the game for all the prospects. It was pretty cool to kind of get a taste of how big this fan base is and how passionate they are. So it’s pretty awesome.”
It’s been a whirlwind for Matthews thus far, but he won’t get caught up in hype or hullaballoos beyond his control. Like any other youngster about to embark on an NHL career, he understands that, only by staying in the moment and proving himself, growing and learning on a daily basis, will he be able to realize his long-term target of bringing a Stanley Cup to Toronto.
“My main goal is to go to (Leafs) camp and earn a spot on the team, to earn that right,” Matthews said. “I’m not looking too far ahead.”