Arizona Rubber

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Maple Leafs hold No. 1 pick – Matthews Toronto-bound?

 

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For the past couple years, it’s pretty much been a forgone conclusion that Auston Matthews would be the top overall pick at the 2016 NHL Draft.

Now that the draft is coming up this weekend in Buffalo, N.Y., all the focus has been on what team would wind up with the No. 1 pick to get the right to select the Scottsdale native and Arizona Bobcats grad.

After the Toronto Maple Leafs won the NHL Draft Lottery on April 30, all signs point to Matthews going to Canada’s biggest media market.

“It’s just good fortune,” Toronto president Brendan Shanahan told TSN. “It’s interesting it came out that way. It’s out of your control, stuff like that. I find it more humorous than anything. Last year, I decked myself out; I had stuff in my pocket. This year, I had nothing. I changed it up a bit. I went au naturel.”

On June 24 in Buffalo, the Maple Leafs will draft first overall for the first time since picking Wendel Clark in 1985. It will also be Toronto’s first time drafting in the top three since 1989.

And while Shanahan would not confirm that the Maple Leafs intend to take Matthews at No. 1 pick, he did quip to TSN that “our scouts are very pleased with (the Draft Lottery) results.”

Shanahan, himself a first-round pick (second overall) of the New Jersey Devils back in 1987 who went on to win Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings in 1997, 1998 and 2002, wouldn’t name names when asked by TSN if Matthews was who he’d take with the top pick.

“I think it’s a great piece to it,” Shanahan said. “I wouldn’t put too much pressure on any one player. We recognize that at this stage, whoever’s coming in here is going to be a young person, a rookie, and not going to have the weight of the world thrust on their shoulders.

“This is not going to be a savior. That’s not the way the game is played these days. You need to have a full team.”

In an interview with Sportsnet, Matthews, who played for the U.S. National Team at this spring’s IIHF World Championship in Russia and pro in Switzerland during the regular season, said watching the Draft Lottery was “very nerve-racking, but lot of mixed emotions. Definitely exciting to be a part of.”

And now that it’s definitely Toronto picking first, Matthews said in the same interview that he’s not sure if he’s more relieved or more excited.

“I think it’s a little bit of both,” said Matthews. “It’s nice to have a little bit of clarity, but nothing’s set in stone and we’re still a ways away from the draft, so trying to stay in the moment now.”

Did Matthews look at teams that had high odds to land the first-overall pick?

“Not too much,” Matthews told Sportsnet. “I try not to focus on that, kind of stay away. You know, whatever happens happens. It’ll work out for itself.”

The Arizona Coyotes and new general manager John Chayka entered the Draft Lottery with the seventh overall pick and when the dust cleared, kept that spot in the draft order.

“Obviously, this was a more emotional (lottery) because of the connection to the presumptive No. 1 pick,” Coyotes president and CEO Anthony LeBlanc said to NHL.com. “We would’ve liked to have received it, but we’re going into preparing for this draft with two very good (first-round) picks.”

In addition to picking seventh, the Coyotes also will pick 20th with a pick received from the New York Rangers in the Keith Yandle trade from the 2015 trade deadline.

The Coyotes/Winnipeg Jets franchise has picked seventh only once before at the NHL Draft, but it was a banner pick that day as in 1995, Winnipeg scooped up future Coyotes captain Shane Doan.

— Matt Mackinder