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Auston Matthews of Maple Leafs won't play for U.S. at World Championship

19-year-old center says long rookie season in NHL has taken toll on him

by Dave McCarthy / NHL.com Correspondent

TORONTO -- Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will not play for the United States at the 2017 IIHF World Hockey Championship.

"Talking to my family and my agent, it's been a pretty long year for me," Matthews said Tuesday. "It's just kind of been non-stop."

Coach Mike Babcock and general manager Lou Lamoriello met with Matthews to discuss the best course of action for him and said fully support his decision to pass on participating in the tournament, which will be held in Cologne, Germany, and Paris from May 5-20.

"Auston was at the World Championships [in 2016] and was at the World Cup and then he played [the season], so it's been a long year," Babcock said. "Whatever you've got to do to be set up to go, if it was going to be beneficial for you to go and you could help your team then I think that would be important as well. Matthews has always stepped up for his country and wants to step up for the country, so I don't think that's an issue whatsoever. But at this time, we feel this is best for him."

Matthews played all 82 regular-season games and set Maple Leafs rookie records for goals (40) and points (69). He led the Maple Leafs with four goals in six Stanley Cup Playoff games and tied defenseman Morgan Rielly for the team lead in points with five.

The 19-year-old admitted his busy year has taken a toll on him.

"Exhausted," Matthews said when asked how he is feeling physically. "It's definitely a grind, but we wanted to go a little bit farther than we did."

With a full season of NHL experience to draw on, Matthews feels he will be even better prepared to handle the rigors of an 82-game schedule when he returns in the fall.

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

"You learn as you go. We're fortunate to have had some pretty veteran guys in here, guys that have been around for a while," Matthews aid. "As far as taking care of your body; it's a long season, especially this year with it being a little bit condensed. Taking care of your body, getting a lot of sleep and eating right, they're definitely things where you've found out what works for you and what doesn't."

Babcock does not expect Matthews to have any trouble making adjustments to his training program during the summer to get himself in the best possible condition for his second NHL season.

"One thing about Auston is he wants to be the best player, so guys who want to be the best player usually don't have much trouble bearing down and getting to work. He's a worker anyway," Babcock said.

Expectations were high for Matthews, the No. 1 selection in the 2016 NHL Draft. From becoming the first player to score four goals in his NHL debut (against the Ottawa Senators), to setting Maple Leafs rookie scoring records, to scoring the first goal of the game 14 times, to finishing tied for second in the League in goals with Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov (behind Sidney Crosby's 44), Matthews exceeded even the highest of expectations set for him.

Center Brian Boyle said was constantly impressed by how good Matthews was during the two months he saw him up close after being acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning on Feb. 27.

"I'm not even qualified to answer that question," Boyle said, when asked about what Matthews' ceiling might be. "The kid, he does everything well. I'm kind of at a loss, but it was a treat to watch that kid play hockey. He should be going to his senior prom in a week or so. He's mature beyond his years; I think the fans are going to be enjoying his play for a number of years."

The Maple Leafs remain without a captain since trading defenseman Dion Phaneuf to the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 9, 2016, but they don't appear to be in a rush to name one. Asked whether he felt it was important to name a captain in time for next season, Babcock said, "No." Lamoriello was asked specifically about the potential of Matthews assuming the role; while Lamoriello did not rule it out, he would not address it specifically.

"I don't think that's a discussion for today," Lamoriello said. "I think what we saw of Auston, we saw a very mature young man both on and off the ice who has tremendous respect for his teammates [and] wants to be the best that he can be. You saw that in just how hard he worked in playing defense and how receptive he was to coaching. Whatever the future brings, it brings."

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