EDMONTON -- Looking ahead to the third NHL game between Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid and Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews caused Oilers coach Todd McLellan to take a short detour onto memory lane.
The Oilers play the Maple Leafs at Rogers Place on Thursday (9 p.m. ET; SNW, TSN4, TVA Sports, NHL.TV).
McLellan is the only person who has coached both, with Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey 2016.
"First of all, it was an honor to coach both of them at the same time," McLellan said. "Remarkable athletes. What I would say about both of them is that their competitive spirit, their fire to be elite, is exceptional.
"I think that we knew Connor had that in him and Auston, in that short month that we had him there, you could see it just oozing out of him, that he wanted to play as one of the top guys."
Video: EDM@DAL: McDavid snaps one past Lehtonen for PPG
Matthews, the first pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, had not yet played an NHL game when he played at the World Cup.
"What was interesting about him was that he started as the extra forward, in our opinion," McLellan said. "Nobody really knew him. But by the time we were into the tournament, he was playing with (Mark) Scheifele and McDavid on the top line. So that tells you a lot about how quickly he can have an impact on a coaching staff or a group of young players. Both have that spirit. Both want to be the best. They make other players better."
McDavid, the Hart Trophy and Art Ross Trophy winner last season, has 30 points (10 goals, 20 assists) and has played an average of 21:37 per game for the Oilers (10-13-2) this season.
In the previous two games against the Maple Leafs and Matthews, McDavid had a goal and an assist.
Toronto won the two games against the Oilers last season, 3-2 in overtime at Toronto on Nov. 1, 2016, and 4-2 at Edmonton on Nov. 29, 2016. Matthews had a goal in the second game.
Video: TOR@MTL: Matthews nets two in 3rd against Habs
"He's obviously a really good player, has a great shot, and I think one of the best in the League in terms of how fast he can get it off and [with] accuracy," McDavid, the first pick of the 2015 NHL Draft, said about Matthews. "He's definitely a special player.
"He seems to be handling [the attention] well. You never really hear anything bad about him so it's a credit to him."
In his second NHL season, Matthews leads the Maple Leafs (16-9-1) in scoring with 24 points (12 goals, 12 assists) in 22 games, playing an average of 18:27 per game. He said Wednesday that McDavid, who is in his third season, has set himself apart.
"I think it's pretty obvious," Matthews said. "He can skate and he can change his speeds better than anybody in the game. It's just his hockey IQ and a mix of everything he can do at a high pace is obviously what sets him apart from everybody else."
Matthews said he had positive memories from the World Cup.
"I think all 23, 24 guys, it was just an unbelievable experience," he said. "You go to your own respective teams and you bring it up every once in a while that that World Cup team was exciting, and it seems like the game is kind of heading in that direction and it's pretty special to be a part of that team."
A quick game is exactly what Matthews is expecting against the Oilers.
"It's two teams going at each other," he said. "Obviously they've got a lot of speed and skill and so do we, and that usually makes for an exciting game, right? I think everybody's looking forward to it."