Gret­zky ex­cited to see rook­ies in play­offs

Matthews brings buzz with McDavid

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY JOHN WAWROW ASSOCIATED PRESS

It’s 2005-06 all over again for Wayne Gret­zky when it comes to young­sters Con­nor McDavid and Aus­ton Matthews mak­ing their NHL play­off de­buts.

The Great One couldn’t help but share his en­thu­si­asm in a text to The Associated Press, com­par­ing McDavid and Matthews’ ar­rival on the post­sea­son stage with the same buzz gen­er­ated dur­ing Sid­ney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin’s rookie sea­sons.

“It’s just one of the best things that has hap­pened to the NHL since Crosby and Ovechkin,” Gret­zky wrote. “Should be fun for all.”

The com­par­i­son isn’t far off so far given how McDavid, the Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers’ sec­ond-year cap­tain, and Matthews, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ rookie of the year can­di­date, have taken the league by storm.

McDavid in 2015 and Matthews last year were se­lected with the No. 1 pick in con­sec­u­tive drafts, as were Ovechkin (2004) and Crosby (2005).

Gret­zky also has ties to both McDavid and Matthews. Aside from play­ing for the Oil­ers, he is now a team part­ner and vice chair­man. He also coached the Ari­zona Coy­otes last decade and made an im­pres­sion on Matthews, who is from Scotts­dale, Ari­zona.

McDavid is con­sid­ered an MVP fi­nal­ist af­ter lead­ing the league with 100 points, and help­ing the Oil­ers end a 10-year play­off drought. Matthews led NHL rook­ies with 40 goals and 69 points in help­ing the youth-laden Maple Leafs make the jump from dead last a year ago to 14th and clinch the fran­chise’s sec­ond play­off berth in 12 sea­sons.

McDavid had an as­sist in a 3-2 over­time se­ries-open­ing loss to San Jose on Wed­nes­day, and said the Oil­ers lacked fin­ish.

“I don’t know whether they raised their game or our game fell off,” McDavid said. “I thought maybe we got a lit­tle com­fort­able, which can’t hap­pen.”

Matthews made his play­off de­but on Thurs­day at Wash­ing­ton. Be­fore the game, Matthews shared Gret­zky’s ex­cite­ment about McDavid and other young stars get­ting their first taste of the play­offs.

“For a sec­ond year in the league, you see a lot of young guys mak­ing the play­offs and teams that weren’t so good that are now mak­ing it into the play­offs,” Matthews said. “I think it’s awe­some for the guys in this room, es­pe­cially all the rook­ies. It’s some­thing that we’ve yet to ex­pe­ri­ence it at this level, so we’re look­ing for­ward to it.”

Even though he’s mak­ing his play­off de­but, Matthews isn’t shy­ing away from Toronto coach Mike Bab­cock’s as­ser­tion that the best play­ers are judged by cham­pi­onships.

Gret­zky has four.

“You’re kind of mea­sured on that,” Matthews said. “I was for­tu­nate to be coached by Claude Lemieux. He was al­ways just an above-av­er­age player, I guess, in the reg­u­lar sea­son and then come play­off time he won a Conn Smythe, he won a cou­ple Cups. He just el­e­vated his level. That’s why he’s known as the player that he is to­day.”

And that rep­re­sents the chal­lenge for a Maple Leafs team that had seven rook­ies play at least 55 games this sea­son.

“I think for all of us, ev­ery­body wants to up their game,” the 19-year-old Matthews said. “Ev­ery­body wants to be known as a guy that comes through in pres­sure sit­u­a­tions.”

Gret­zky was 23 when he won his first Cup in 1984.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Rookie Con­nor McDavid led the NHL with 100 points and helped the Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers end a 10-year play­off drought.

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