Hall of Famer and Toronto Maple Leafs great Mats Sundin gave Auston Matthews a ringing endorsement Friday.
“In my book, he’s obviously the right person to be captain, no doubt about that,” Sundin told the Toronto Star’s Rosie DiManno. “He leads on the ice and you can tell he’s a good man off the ice.”
Sundin, who captained the Blue and White from 1997 to 2008, went on to explain how much he’s enjoyed watching Matthews develop and believes the 20-year-old is the premier centre the team has been yearning for.
“I won’t compare him to me,” he said. “I will say it’s fantastic watching him play, seeing a young man maturing, developing even from last year, and he’s hardly even started his career yet. I have him right up there with Connor McDavid. The Leafs have waited so long to have a young franchise player to build around. He’s that player.’’
Sundin knows first-hand the pressures and intense spotlight that come with wearing the “C” in Toronto, so his praise of the Maple Leafs’ sophomore shouldn’t be disregarded.
However, the praise from a Leafs legend shouldn’t force anyone in the organization to hand the captaincy over to Matthews until he’s ready for the monumental role. Toronto is one of four NHL teams that currently don’t have a captain, and the Scottsdale, Az., native has been pegged as the next one since his arrival in T.O. last year.
The actual duties of the team captain has transformed mightily over the past 15-20 years to much more of a symbolic role rather than a functional one. With the franchise expecting Matthews to be its key centrepiece for the next 12-15 seasons, it has to tread lightly to avoid putting an even bigger bulls-eye on his chest.
By all accounts, Matthews has the work ethic, mental fortitude and maturity to have that “C” on his shoulder, and deserves every opportunity to lead the club through it’s next decade of Stanley Cup pursuits.
But becoming the team’s captain will come when Matthews is ready — and that’s how it should be.
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