Auston Matthews’ All-Star weekend, grading the Marlies at the halfway point, Mike Babcock on avoiding the “rookie wall”, and more in the links.

Leafs Links

Auston Matthews going head-to-head with Crosby (Toronto Star)
Maple Leafs super rookie Auston Matthews will go head-to-head against Sidney Crosby in the NHL all-star weekend skills competition. Matthews will be competing against Crosby in stick-handling, as well as “accuracy shooting.” Matthews is just four goals behind Crosby for the NHL goal-scoring lead, with 24 to the Penguins’ superstar’s 28.

McDavid, Matthews and Laine headline slate of first-time NHL all-stars (Humboldt Journal)
Matthews is already the top centre and player for a Maple Leafs squad that’s chasing an unexpected playoff berth. The Arizona product and California native is on track to break franchise rookie records for goals and points, already becoming the first player in league history to score four goals in an NHL debut. He’s tied for first in the NHL with 20 even-strength goals and increasingly taking on tougher assignments for Leafs coach Mike Babcock.

Matthews fits in with NHL’s bluebloods (Toronto Star)
“He’s not the best offensive player I’ve ever seen come in the league in the last 25 years — I think Crosby or Ovechkin, although he’s right there,” says Brian Lawton, a former No. 1 overall pick turned analyst on NHL Network. “He’s not the best defensive player coming in. I think Patrice Bergeron. But when I think of the two? Crosby and Ovechkin had holes defensively. They were not where he’s at. When I add it all up, he’s the most prepared guy.”

Toronto’s blues brothers a breath of fresh air (The Globe & Mail)
Matthews, the dynamic first-overall draft pick has a rookie-high 23 goals, a rookie-high 163 shots on goal, and a spot in this weekend’s all-star game. He is the youngest Leaf all-star since a 19-year-old rookie named Wendel Clark in 1986. The two stars, both in the Calder Trophy conversation, have excited long-suffering Leafs fans, and not just by darting through defenders or potting game-winning goals. The two baby-faced newcomers are fast growing into stars of the franchise and making it look fun. When was the last time the Leafs looked fun?

Leafs’ Matthews ready for NHL celebrity weekend (Chronicle Herald)
“I keep forgetting he’s going,” forward Matt Martin said. “I asked him about 10 times what he’s going to do for the break and he looks at me like, ‘What are you talking about?’ He’s a special player and deserves to be there. The way he’s taken the league by storm is really impressive, but at the same time at 19 years old to stay as humble and grounded as he has in this market is pretty incredible.”

2016-17 Toronto Marlies: Midseason Review & Player Grades (MLHS)
Travis Dermott: It’s been a season of two halves for the Ontario native. He was the best defenseman on the team before suffering an ankle injury which saw him miss a fair chunk of time. It’s been a struggle for Dermott to fully recover and get back up to speed, but now at 100%, he’s resumed his upward trajectory and was instrumental in last weekend’s success. Sheldon Keefe is already starting to lean on him in the key situations, particularly with the absence of Rinat Valiev. If Dermott had been able to produce a little more offensively he’d have been a lock for an A grade.

Game #42 Review: Toronto Marlies 5 vs. St. John’s IceCaps 3 (MLHS)
Prior to the current road trip, the Toronto Marlies managed just five victories in their first 19 games away from the Ricoh Coliseum. They’ve now won four of the last five on their travels after defeating the St. John’s IceCaps in an action-packed affair on Friday night. This was a big regulation win against a divisional rival earned through an excellent team performance by the Marlies, barring the early first-period minutes.

Leafs’ road points streak comes to an end in Philly (TSN)
Babcock said in his pre-game presser that it would take a heavy effort from Toronto to be successful against Philadelphia. While William Nylander isn’t known for being hard on the puck or an impressive net-front presence, he was upping his game all over the ice. Late in the second period, while the Maple Leafs were trailing 1-0, Nylander crashed Michal Neuvirth’s net and stayed on the puck in the crease, finally slipping it past Neuvirth to tie the game.

Babcock confident Maple Leafs’ young guns won’t hit ‘wall’ (Toronto Sun)
“I think these young guys could play every day if they wanted to,” Bozak said. “I’m not worried too much about them. Us older guys will just have to stay rested and be smart with our bodies with the schedule so compact. It’s something we’ve got to work on. You don’t see it (happening) in practice or in games. I don’t think it’s going to happen. They’re all too talented and too mature for that to happen. They’ve been a huge factor for our success and we’re happy to have them.”

Mirtle: Pros and cons as the Maple Leafs tumble out of a playoff spot (The Athletic) [Subscribers Only] 
Well, that was a karate kick to the nether regions for the Maple Leafs. They were 2 minutes and 37 seconds away from getting a point, on the road, in the second game of a back-to-back, in Philadelphia, on Thursday night. An OTL or a shootout loss would have been an admirable result against a good team in that situation. Especially with how awful the Leafs’ third period was.

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