Toronto Maple Leafs rookie center Auston Matthews will make his first appearance in an NHL All-Star Game on Sunday. Judging by the praise lavished upon Matthews by NBC analyst Pierre McGuire, this won't be his last one.
Matthews will play for the Atlantic Division in 3-on-3 competition at the 2017 Honda NHL All-Star Game in Los Angeles on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports).
Selected with the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, Matthews leads all rookies with 22 goals in 45 games and has a chance to break the NHL record for most goals by a U.S.-born rookie (38) set by Neal Broten of the Minnesota North Stars in 1981-82. But it's Matthews' all-around game that has McGuire believing he's more ahead of the curve at this stage of his career than Connor McDavid, whose 56 points lead the NHL and whose Edmonton Oilers are in position to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since reaching the Final in 2006.
"Connor is phenomenal, don't get me wrong," McGuire said Tuesday. "The biggest thing about Connor is nobody does what he can do at the rate of speed that he can do it at. He's got the quickest hands and the quickest feet of any players in the NHL right now, but I don't think he's as defensively aware as Auston Matthews, I'm not sure he can be as an elite penalty-killer. That's not a knock on him, it's just that Auston is geared differently."
Matthews will be participating in the single-elimination tournament among the League's four divisions that produced the most-watched All-Star Game in NBCSN's history last season. The breakneck pace of the 3-on-3 game is part of the must-see TV element of the reconfigured event.
"You like to see grace on ice, you like to see speed, you like to see action. There is nothing better than watching NHL action at its best," NBC analyst Jeremy Roenick said. "And the 3-on-3 situation, there is no downturn in the NHL All-Star 3-on-3 game. It is high-paced, great action all the time, so it's definitely much better to watch on television than just a normal hockey game. The All-Star Game is the best performance of talent that there is in all sports."
It's also the first time the All-Star Game will be shown on network television in the U.S. since 2004. NBC executive producer Sam Flood was asked by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the League to consider putting the event this year on NBC as part of the NHL's 100th anniversary celebration.
"We think it's a wonderful opportunity to showcase the game to the broader broadcast network of NBC," Flood said. "Long term we'll have to see where we end up. We think it's spectacular this is happening, and we wanted to honor the League because this is such a seminal moment for the NHL.
Video: BUF@TOR: Matthews snipes a beauty from the low slot
"The League itself, last year, decided to go to the 3-on-3 format and changed the way All-Star Games are viewed in this country. This was the best All-Star Game that's happened in professional league, in the United States, in a very long time. The credit goes to Gary Bettman and his team, who had the foresight and the courage to change the format to 3-on-3. There's plenty of room for stars to skate and play hard, and it creates incredible moments across the entire 3-on-3 tournament. I can't wait to get it started."
The game will also offer a national stage for many of the NHL's top young players, including Matthews, McDavid and Winnipeg Jets center Patrik Laine, 18, who's second among rookies in goals (21) and third in points (37).
"Not a lot of people get to see Connor McDavid and Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine and a lot of these young, wonderful stars because they play in the western part of the country or they play in Canada," NBC play-by-play announcer Mike Emrick said. "Even though a lot of the games are carried and visible down here it's later on in the evening and many people in the right half of the country don't watch these guys on a regular basis.
"Here the whole country is going to get to see them on over-the-air television, which I think is just a tremendous opportunity to show the world what we've got here and the fact that our star players can be star players now."