Matthews vs. McDavid: Will this be the NHL's next great rivalry?
Tuesday in Toronto marks the 1st meeting between the most recent No. 1 draft picks
The next great hockey rivalry could start to take shape Tuesday night (7:30 p.m. ET) as the Toronto Maple Leafs play host to the Edmonton Oilers, pitting teenagers Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews against each other for the first time in the NHL.
McDavid, the top pick in 2015, and Matthews, who went No. 1 in 2016, were teammates just six weeks ago when they played for Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey. The two 19-year-old centres worked well together on the 23-and-under squad, impressing the hockey community with their speed and skill. That team narrowly missed the semifinals, finishing with a 2-1-0 record.
"I've played in this building a few times but never wearing the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Oilers?src=hash">#Oilers</a> logo. I'm excited to do that." <a href="https://twitter.com/cmcdavid97">@cmcdavid97</a> on first game at ACC <a href="https://t.co/1fIXuIlFuF">pic.twitter.com/1fIXuIlFuF</a>—@EdmontonOilers
"He [McDavid] is so easy to play with," Matthews told reporters Monday. "He does everything so well at such a high speed. Being able to play with him was just a blast."
The experience Matthews gained playing alongside McDavid clearly benefited him ahead of his rookie season in Toronto. Matthews had a record-setting debut, scoring four goals on opening night against the Ottawa Senators. Through his first nine games, he is among the top goal scorers in the league with six to go with four assists.
McDavid, though, has been more than keeping pace in his second NHL season. With Edmonton off to a surprising 7-2-0 start, the new Oilers captain leads the league in points with 12 (five goals, seven assists) and is in the top-10 in plus-minus at plus-8. He also had a multi-goal opening night this season, scoring twice and adding an assist against Calgary.
Not the 1st face off
Tuesday's game won't be their first meeting on ice, though. The pair faced off internationally in the 2015 world junior championship and then at the world championship this past spring.
McDavid had the edge in both those encounters as Canada came away with the gold, while Matthews and the Americans finished off the podium.
The hype surrounding these two is similar to the decade-long rivalry between Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, the highly coveted top picks in 2004 and 2005, respectively.
Before the 2004-05 NHL lockout, Washington and Pittsburgh finished the 2003-04 season at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. While each team has other stars — Pittsburgh in particular benefited from high draft picks (Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury come to mind) — it was the additions of their respective superstars that began the turnaround for those two teams.
Which is exactly what Edmonton and Toronto are looking to do now.
Like Crosby and Ovechkin, McDavid and Matthews are the key pieces in each team's rebuild. Unfortunately, the youthful teams will only meet twice a season — the other is Nov. 29 in Edmonton.
It's too soon in their careers to determine who has the edge, but McDavid has Wayne Gretzky's early endorsement.
"I don't think there's any question that Connor's the best 19-year-old hockey player I've ever seen, and I saw [Mark] Messier. I saw [Mario] Lemieux. I saw [Guy] Lafleur," Gretzky told the Canadian Press. "This kid is special."
As for the first round of Ovechkin vs. Crosby on Nov. 22, 2005, Sid the Kid's goal and assist topped The Great 8's single assist in Pittsburgh's 5-4 win.