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Auston Matthews gets assist in first scrimmage

No. 1 pick wows Maple Leafs fans during game against fellow prospects

by Joe Yerdon / Correspondent

NIAGARA FALLS, Ontario -- Auston Matthews got a taste of what awaits him in his NHL career, good and bad, in his first scrimmage with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday.

In the third period of his first scrimmage with the Maple Leafs, Matthews, the No. 1 pick at the 2016 NHL Draft, was high-sticked in the chin by Team Blue forward Dominic Toninato. Penalties in the scrimmage were settled by penalty shots and Matthews' backhand shot went high over the glove of goalie Christopher Nell.

Matthews left the game after the penalty shot and received five stitches to close a cut on his chin.

"I was kind of leaking down the ice," Matthews said. "I noticed it and I didn't know it was that bad so I just tried to make the best move possible. It didn't go in and then [Jeremy] Bracco pulled me aside and said, 'You need to go get that checked out.'"

Matthews had an assist on defenseman Jesper Lindgren's first-period goal, but his Team White lost 4-1 to Team Blue at Gale Center.

Matthews' outlet pass let Lindgren take a wrist shot through traffic that got past Team Blue goalie Joseph Woll. 

Video: Auston Matthews after team scrimmage on Friday

"I think Auston is Auston," Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello said. "I think that his abilities speak for themselves. We've all seen him along. He's an elite player and will be."

Although Matthews' assist came on a basic play, he excited the crowd again early in the second period with a spin-o-rama through the slot that led to a backhand shot on goal against Woll. Later in the period, he toe-dragged the puck through the legs of Team Blue defenseman Nikita Lisov, leading to another shot. 

"With a guy like that, a great player he went first overall, you can't really have any expectations of what he's going to do," defenseman J.D. Greenway said. "You can't really anticipate what he's going to do. He clearly made a good spin-o-rama move that I think went off Joe Woll's head. But little things like that, it definitely opens your eyes."

Matthews played most of the game on a line with Dmytro Timashov and Bracco but occasionally was used on other lines in the second period. 

"I think when he goes out there, every shift he has an impact," said Bracco, a second-round pick in 2015. "To play in the NHL next year, you're going to have to do that. It's pretty impressive to play alongside him and to work off him, so it's a lot of fun."

It was the first scrimmage for Matthews, and there will be another one at MasterCard Centre in Etobicoke, Ontario, on Saturday. But all eyes are set on training camp in September, when he'll join the rest of the talented young core of forwards the Maple Leafs have drafted recently.

"I'm going to put [William Nylander] and Matthews together and they can work that out, and so [Nylander] will wind up on the right side, but I imagine he'll take left-side faceoffs too," Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. "And then as far as [Mitchell] Marner goes, we're going to play him on the wing for sure."

Matthews' eventual work with Nylander will be delayed a bit; Matthews earned a spot on Team North America for the World Cup of Hockey, but when it's time to focus on playing for the Maple Leafs, he's excited at the prospect of working with the 2014 first-round pick.

"I've gotten to know him a little bit," Matthews said. "I've played against him quite a bit. He's a pretty special player. He moves his legs really well, he's very skilled, he thinks the game pretty unbelievably … so, yeah, I'm looking forward to that."

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