Auston Matthews will start on the third line, says Babcock

Auston Matthews is a Toronto Maple Leaf. It happened. The ‘if Auston comes to Toronto…’ is over. Now comes the ‘where does Auston fit in Toronto?’ Rumours and speculation had been running rampant since before the Leafs had even won the first overall pick. But now we can actually hear from Leafs coaches and management. 

Just what do you do with Auston Matthews?

tweet matthews 3rd line

This, apparently. There’s a lot to unpack in this tweet. Matthews starting as third line centre. Kadri and Bozak as first and second line centres, potentially in that order. Nylander on the wing, and potentially on Matthews’ wing.

Starting Matthews as the Leafs third line centre is a solid plan. Matthews has already proven he can play in a men’s league with the ZSC Lions, so he should have very little issue fitting into the NHL style from the European ice. He also doesn’t have to stay on the third line, it’s not a forever deal. If he’s struggling, he can drop down to 4th, take on fewer minutes. If he’s excelling, he can move up. But a quick look at the recent Oilers will show just how potentially foolish throwing a first overall pick straight into first line NHL minutes can be. 

With Matthews as the third line centre, that means, as of today, he is starting behind Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak. Potentially (hopefully) in that order. Ideally, Bozak will be traded away, leaving Kadri as a great second line centre, and a hole right where an elite first liner could slot right in (hint, hint, Tampa Bay). Or, if not that, Kadri steps up to the first line, Matthews to the second, and the Leafs can pull from the insane depth of the Toronto Marlies for the third and fourth lines. Perhaps Sam Carrick?

Placing Nylander on the wing is another interesting move. Placing Nylander potentially on Matthews’ wing is even more interesting. Nylander has spent the last two seasons with the Marlies playing centre, leading to a great deal of speculation that he was potentially being groomed as Bozak’s replacement, or that the Leafs may simply have too many centres. But what could actually be happening is something that the Leafs haven’t seen a while… Forward planning. Marner can play both centre and wing, getting Nylander the same experience gives the Leafs versatility going forward in their rebuild. 

Also, I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to see what a Nylander – Matthews – Marner line could do. 

But all of this is just speculation. It’s fun, imagining where Auston freaking Matthews is going to fit into the Leafs lineup. But, quite frankly, it’s June 24th. Free agency hasn’t even begun yet. The season opener is still months away. Auston Matthews will start in the NHL, for sure. But I’ll take line combinations, and position speculation with a grain of salt until game day. 

I’m a cynic like that.

  • Harte of a Lion

    So provided there are no more moves at F this summer/fall:

    JVR-Kadri-Komarov
    Lupul-Bozak-Nylander
    Michalek-Matthews-Marner
    Greening-Holland-Hyman
    Laich and one of the kids (Brown/Sosh/Leivo) as extras.

    I mean, that’s probably not a playoff team’s forward core, but it’s a start.

    • Gary Empey

      Babcock also stated he intends to have Matthews play with veterans, to start the season.

      As we all know Babcock likes to tweak his lines and defence at the start of the season until he finds the best balance.

    • Gary Empey

      You are so right there. Who’s going to play the PK when he’s gone. When your penalty kill sucks, that means you are giving up one or two goals a game. Bozak gets all the critical defensive zone faceoffs. You don’t want your stars playing the PK and the powerplay. Look what happened to McDavid last year when those clowns out west had him playing the PK. Bozak chips in his share of goals and assists. We know he is not part of the rebuild, The goat needs another year with the Marlies. Oh I forgot folks here hate the goat because all he can do is win faceoffs and shut down the other teams best players. Looks like for some fans, if you can not score a ton of goals you must be a piece of crap. Unless your name is Kessel and you can score goals but you are a piece of crap anyways.

      • Jeremy Ian

        Hear, hear.

        Absurd. Bozak plays his role very well; if Nonis and Carlyle miscast him, why make a stupid decision now and trade him away for a pittance?

        But the photo for this piece looks great! In a couple of years, the Leafs will be a force to reckon with.

  • Foximus

    Who are we to question Babcock? He’s the best coach in the NHL for a reason.

    I can see TO keeping Bozak until mid season and then ship him to a contender looking for depth for more draft picks or prospects.

    And just think about Hunter still drafting today! Your program is getting stronger by the day because you have the mgmt team in hockey. And it’s being built to contend for a really long time!

    Your line up will change about 50 times before October. Count on that.

  • Gary Empey

    I know it’s pointless but it’s fun to speculate

    JVR – Kadri – Komarov
    Lupul – Bozak – Marner
    Laich – Matthews – Nylander
    Sosh – Holland – Hyman

    That’s what I think Babcock will go with. Mixing the young guys in with some vets. This is assuming Lupul doesn’t go to Robidas Island, at least not to start. That’s some good balance there allowing them to roll three decent lines with good punch and a kind of energy line as the 4th. I’m sure the roster will change a few times before we start the season.

  • FlareKnight

    I’m fine with starting the year like this (while obviously we’ll change things up depending on free agency).

    Obviously Matthews still starts the year as our best center, but not a bad idea to insulate him a bit to start out. Let him get his feet wet and he’ll naturally move up and take over the #1 center position.

    Also does allow Babcock to ease Nylander in on the wing like he wanted in the first place. Bozak won’t be around forever and we’ll see with Kadri.

    In the end a lot of excitement for next year’s team just from the young guys. Matthews, Nylander and very likely Marner hitting the NHL. That will be insane as it is, but will have a lot of new faces.

    The best thing is that we know Babcock will get them playing with effort and the right way. Errors will happen, but they’ll develop through this year. Might not get out of the bottom 10 next year, but will very likely win more games.

  • Gary Empey

    I’d love to see Carrick get a shot as the 4C – I feel he is almost already forgotten yet he is the ideal 4C for them…at least until the Goat is ready.