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Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews focused on big game

Top picks in past two NHL Drafts play against each other for second time when Maple Leafs visit Oilers

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

EDMONTON -- There will be plenty of attention surrounding Round 2 of Connor McDavid vs. Auston Matthews at Rogers Place on Tuesday (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN (jip), SNW, TSN4, NHL.TV).

McDavid, the captain of the Edmonton Oilers and the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, and Matthews, the Toronto Maple Leafs rookie and No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft, played against each other for the first time on Nov. 1 in Toronto, a game won 3-2 in overtime by the Maple Leafs.

Each player was held without a point in that game. McDavid played 22:46, and Matthews was on the ice 19:28.

It was one of seven games this season that McDavid, the NHL scoring leader with 29 points (10 goals, 19 assists in 23 games), has been held off the score sheet.

Matthews, third in rookie scoring with 17 points (nine goals, eight assists), said skating on a line with McDavid for Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 might give him some insight on how to play against him.

"I guess so," Matthews said. "Everybody kind of knows he's a very good player, fast, makes plays at a very high speed. So once he gets going in open ice, he's a pretty tough guy to stop. It's our job to kind of make it difficult on him."

Neither player was very interested in promoting an individual rivalry.

"It's not something you think about at all," Matthews said. "It's another good challenge for us. They'll be a fired-up team. We definitely had a big game against them last time."

"It's just another game, a big game for our team," McDavid said. "They've been playing some good hockey. We've got to find a way to win here."

But there is no denying that any time McDavid takes the ice, individual matchups will garner plenty of attention. That's what happens where you are the No. 1 pick in the draft.

"I think it's every game," Oilers coach Todd McLellan said. "It just happens to be Toronto and we're all sitting here. We can go to Dallas and the media is asking me the same question and it's Jamie Benn. You can go to Colorado and it's Matt Duchene and Nate MacKinnon. It's every night. It doesn't change a lot. He's got a very even keel. He has a tendency to rise to the occasion, but the occasion happens to be 82 times a year right now in my opinion."

The attention is justified, according to Toronto coach Mike Babcock, who put McDavid in some very exclusive company.

"[Ryan] Nugent-Hopkins is a real good player," Babcock said Tuesday. "[Leon] Draisaitl is a real good player. But McDavid looks like he's different than everybody else. The last time I saw a guy go faster than a whole league was Bobby Orr when I was nine years old. This guy's faster than the whole league, and it's incredible to watch and it's got to be an exciting time here."

Still, Babcock said he was focused on getting the same kind of performance from the Maple Leafs that earned them the victory against Edmonton four weeks ago. 

"Things went good for us," Babcock said. "Let's not kid ourselves. We were at home and we had good matchups and we played hard and we were good defensively. We're going to have to do a better job on the road."

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