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NHL Draft

Maple Leafs draft Auston Matthews first

Arizona native is first U.S.-born player chosen No. 1 since Patrick Kane in 2007

by Mike G. Morreale @MikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

BUFFALO -- Center Auston Matthews has gone from a non-traditional hockey market to the "hockey mecca."

Matthews, a native of Scottsdale, Ariz., was selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs with the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft at First Niagara Center on Friday. 

"Toronto is the hockey mecca; that's the hockey universe right there," Matthews said. "They sure do love the Maple Leafs. They are a very good sports city in general, but especially with the Leafs."

Matthews is the seventh United States-born player selected with the first pick and the first since Patrick Kane was chosen by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2007. After hearing his name called by Maple Leafs director of player personnel Mark Hunter, Matthews hugged his mother and father.

"I was a little emotional," Matthews said. "My mom was up there crying. Both my parents have done quite a bit for me throughout my whole career. All the sacrifices they made make this such a very special moment for all of us. I think they are just trying to let this moment settle in as well."

Auston's father, Brian Matthews, spoke to NHL Network after Toronto made the selection.

"I'm having trouble finding the right words to express my feelings," Brian said. "He's an amazing kid and this is an amazing moment. We may not have provided him the best hockey environment growing up, but he made the most of it."

Video: Maple Leafs draft F Auston Matthews No. 1

Matthews said he is ecstatic to have an opportunity to wear the Maple Leafs sweater.

"It's a dream come true and such a big honor, especially to a storied franchise like the Toronto Maple Leafs," Matthews said. "I intend to just be myself every day, be a good teammate, work hard and use my skills to the best of my abilities."

Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello siad he feels a great future is in store for Matthews.

"Very rarely are you able to get a center with the size and strength that complete a player," Lamoriello said. "He's a 200-foot player and we're just delighted."

Many expect Matthews to fill a top-six role out of training camp for Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock next season. There's a good chance he could begin the season as Toronto's No. 2 center behind Nazem Kadri. No center has scored 30 goals in a season for the Maple Leafs since Mats Sundin, who had 32 goals and 78 points in 74 games in 2007-08.

"I don't really think about [being a savior for the Maple Leafs]," Matthews said. "Hockey is a team game and obviously I want to be an impact player. I want to make the team better and get better each day, so that's my goal going forward. This is a passionate hockey market, but I think I can take it."

Matthews, who played for Zurich in National League A in Switzerland's top professional league, was No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of international skaters.

Video: Auston Matthews on joining the Maple Leafs

The left-shot forward tied for fourth in the league with 24 goals and was 10th with 46 points in 36 games. He had a plus-16 rating, 129 shots on goal and an 18.6 shooting percentage. He was second in voting for the league's most valuable player award and won the Rising Star award.

Matthews missed 10 games for Zurich, six because of an upper-body injury and four while playing for the United States at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship in Finland, where he tied for the tournament lead with seven goals and helped the U.S. win the bronze medal.

"It doesn't matter where you are from; if you put in the hard work and get the right coaches, build the right habits, anyone can make it," Matthews said. "That's the message I would give to any young player out there."

Matthews skated with NHL players at the 2016 IIHF World Championship in Russia, leading the U.S. in goals (six) and tying for the lead in points (nine). He will represent Team North America at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

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