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Matthews can be even better for Maple Leafs, says Babcock

Coach believes there's room for center to improve after 40-goal rookie season

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / Deputy Managing Editor

PLYMOUTH, Mich. -- Center Auston Matthews scored 40 goals last season and won the Calder Trophy, but Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock believes there's room for him to be even better.

"He's a competitive guy and he expects to take a step this year and we do as well," Babcock said between games at the World Junior Summer Showcase on Sunday. "I don't measure guys by points, I measure guys by how they play and how they compete every day and how much better they get in their determination. We're excited to see what he can do. He feels he's a real good player and wants to be one of the best players in the game."

Babcock said he was impressed at how Matthews, 19, improved as 2016-17 went on, but believes it's just a starting point.

"He really improved his 200-foot game last year, more and more pace," he said. "He's gotten way better without the puck so he has the puck more He can play against everybody. He's got a lot of growth options."

The Maple Leafs' rookies were a major reason they qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season. Matthews (40), William Nylander (22) and Connor Brown (20) scored at least 20 goals, and Matthews (69), Nylander (61) and Mitchell Marner (61) had at least 60 points.

Video: WSH@TOR, Gm6: Matthews roofs gorgeous wrist shot

That group also pushed the Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington Capitals to six games in the Eastern Conference First Round. But Babcock said those players can't be satisfied with what they accomplished. 

"Obviously we have good young players," Babcock said. "We have a lot of them. It's kind of a group that's growing up together. But it's one year and one year doesn't make a career. You have to do it again and again and again. We're excited about our opportunities."

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