TORONTO — Brooks Laich has seen top draft picks blossom in the NHL.
With the Washington Capitals, he watched Alex Ovechkin burst onto the scene in 2005. Now with the Toronto Maple Leafs some 11 years later, he has a ringside seat for Auston Matthews’ debut.
The 19-year-old forward, the No. 1 overall pick this summer, turned heads at the World Cup of Hockey on a Team North American line with Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele.
“It puts a big smile on your face,” Laich, a 12-year veteran, said about watching Matthews. “I see a lot of little things in his game, habits that you don’t generally see in young players.”
Those include his positioning, the way he competes for the puck and his shot release. From Scottsdale, Arizona, Matthews played last season in Switzerland.
Leafs center Nazem Kadri has also seen Matthews play from the Air Canada Centre stands.
“(He’s) obviously high-level skill,” he said. “(He) can skate, he’s big. So he’s only going to get better. Obviously, with that 82-game season, it’s going to be a little difficult but I think he’s going to be more than ready for it.”
Leafs management already likes what it sees.
“There’s no question he has a bright future,” GM Lou Lamoriello said. “It’s just exciting to see him play. But I think the most exciting thing is to know he’s ours.”
Laich reminded reporters asking about Matthews that the team comes first.
“This isn’t an individual sport,” he said. “This isn’t a tennis or a golf where everything comes down to one person. Auston’s a great player from what I’ve seen. But there’s also going to be 22 other great players in this room.
“So as a young guy, he’s got enough pressure on himself. He puts, I’m sure, enough pressure on himself. You don’t get to be where he is already without having an internal drive like that. So we don’t need to put anything else on him. We want to make him a member of the team, we want to treat him like the other 22 guys.”
“The logo comes first. I’m sure Auston will tell you that.”
The Leafs begin on-ice activities at training camp Friday in Halifax, Nova Scotia.