Auston Matthews said he would welcome the captaincy of the Toronto Maple Leafs if he were asked to fill that role.
“The captaincy in hockey in general is a huge honor, but especially in Toronto,” the center told The Athletic on Friday. “You see the names of the guys that have come before you. We have all the captains banners lined up for us in our practice rink. You know the names, what they brought to the team, their competitiveness, what they did throughout the community, so it’s a bit of a bigger honor, in my opinion, to bestow that in Toronto.”
Toronto has not had a captain since defenseman Dion Phaneuf was traded to the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 9, 2016.
“Whether it’s me or it’s someone else, it comes with a lot of responsibility, but whether I get it or not, I feel comfortable regardless,” Matthews said. “We’ve got a lot of good candidates, guys that have been in the League for a while, guys that have been captains before like [center] John Tavares, and guys that have worn letters for quite some time.”
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Tavares was captain of the New York Islanders for five seasons before signing a seven-year, $77 million contract with the Maple Leafs as a free agent on July 1, 2018. Tavares, defenseman Morgan Rielly and forward Patrick Marleau, a former San Jose Sharks captain who is an unrestricted free agent, were alternate captains with Toronto last season.
“I don’t think it would be awkward,” Matthews said of being named captain over a veteran. “Everybody has the same goal in mind. Everybody wants to contribute in their own way and do what’s best for the team. When somebody is ready, [general manager] Kyle [Dubas] and the staff will make a good choice. No matter who it is, you move forward, do your thing and put in the work.”
Matthews, who will turn 22 on Sept. 17, had an NHL career-high 73 points (37 goals, 36 assists) in 68 games last season and six points (five goals, one assist) in seven Stanley Cup Playoff games. The. No 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, Matthews has 205 points (111 goals, 94 assists) in 212 regular-season games for the Maple Leafs and 13 points (10 goals, three assists) in 20 playoff games.
“You can always take a step forward, and that area, leadership, is an area where I want to take a step forward and I think the staff and organization wants that, too,” he said. “But whether I wear a letter — whether it’s a ‘C’ or an ‘A’ or nothing — I don’t think it will change what I do, what I’m like, my personality and how I approach the game.”
Matthews also said he hopes his teammate, restricted free agent Mitchell Marner, has his contract situation resolved soon.
“Obviously, I hope for the best,” Matthews said of the 22-year-old forward. “He’s a big part of the team. You hope to have him there as soon as possible. He’s an amazing player, an amazing teammate and a good friend, but it’s really none of my business. When it gets done, you just hope it gets done as smooth as possible and then you just go from there.”
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Marner said he could train in Switzerland if he remains without a contract. A European representative has asked Zurich of the National League if he can practice there.
“I loved my time in Zurich,” said Matthews, who had 46 points (24 goals, 22 assists) in 36 games there in 2015-16. “It’s an amazing place to play and live, but [Marner] didn’t reach out to me about that. We’ve talked quite a bit this summer and I don’t think we’ve talked once about his contract. The last time we talked it was actually about our fantasy football team this year.”
Marner had 94 points (26 goals, 68 assists) in 82 games last season and four points (two goals, two assists) in seven playoff games.
“If he wants advice, [forward] Willie [Nylander is probably a good guy to talk to because he went through it last season (signed in December),” Matthews said. “I’m sure they have probably chatted about their similar situations. I signed halfway through the season last year (five years, $11.63 million average annual value), so it’s different. I’m not really too worried about it. I don’t know what’s going to happen because I’m not in those conversations but I’m sure [Dubas] and his whole team will figure that whole thing out. They find a way to work themselves out. They always do.”