Auston Matthews is ranked fourth behind only Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the NHL Network’s top centers list, Josh Leivo is motivated by the Leafs’ continued faith in him, and more in the links.

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Auston Matthews ranked #4 among NHL centers (NHLN)
Auston Matthews’ rookie campaign for the Toronto Maple Leafs earned him the #4 spot on the NHL Network’s Top 20 Centers Right Now list.

“I don’t think we thought he was going to be this big of a sniper. We knew of all of the other aspects. He doesn’t look like he’s really scooting out there but he is. He’s long and rangy. When you’re big and you play big and know your size and passing ability and all of the skill set that he has which no one can argue… it’s a dangerous combination. He knows — very young, as a rookie — that physically he can dominate. And he did that in his first season.

40 goals. When you look at our list, most of these centermen are playmakers. They’re not necessarily the finishers. The only guys on it that are really snipers and finishers at the center position is a Jeff Carter, a Steven Stamkos, and Sidney Crosby is now one who has won the Rocket Richard a couple of times.

The sky is the limit for him. He might be a little higher than people would think, but I mean, how do you put any restrictions on him? He had 40 goals and turned the face of a franchise around.”

– Mike Rupp, NHL Network

Bourne: Fine with NHL Network ranking Matthews fourth best centre (TSN1050)
The Athletic columnist Justin Bourne joined Naylor & Landsberg with guest host Matt Cauz to discuss the NHL Network ranking Auston Matthews fourth among NHL centres, if McDavid has overtaken Sidney Crosby as the best player in the world and more.

He’s definitely got a lot of potential to put up bigger numbers [in assists]. You certainly expect that Willy Nylander has a chance to put up more numbers, so he can get more assists there. If you’re replacing Zach Hyman and his 30 points with Patrick Marleau, there are a few more assists for Auston. I think that can be improved.

The one thing that I would be concerned about is — he scored 40 goals but he also played 82 games, and it’s pretty uncommon to stay that healthy in the NHL these days. If healthy, he can certainly hit that number again. I could see him having an 85-90 point season if all goes well.

Reliving the first 88 games of Auston Matthews – Highlights & Analysis (MLHS)
It’s really impressive that Auston scored 40 goals in his rookie year, but what I want anyone who reads this or watched any one of the videos to take away is that Auston is a 19-year-old rookie who is already doing things seasoned veterans of the game are not. Furthermore, almost every facet of his game not only impressed but improved markedly. How many rookies would receive such praise for things like puck retrieval, puck battles, power play leadership, defensive ability, and his ability to make teammates better (the list goes on and on)?

Leivo on avoiding Vegas: Babcock’s ‘excited to give me another shot’ (The Sun)
“You didn’t know what was going to happen at the time, but when they informed me they wanted to keep me, it was wonderful to hear,” Leivo said this week as the Leafs conduct informal summer workouts. “They wanted to develop me and keep me on the roster. I’m very excited they gave me that opportunity. I just want to go out this year and prove myself to them.”

John Tavares and the one-year Maple Leafs fantasy (Puck Daddy)
Craig Button is an NHL insider for TSN, and recently proffered a whopper: What if New York Islanders star John Tavares hit unrestricted free agency, opted not to sign a long-term deal with anyone and instead went home to Ontario on a one-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs in an all-in attempt to win a Stanley Cup before the Leafs salary cap blows up? OK, maybe outlandish didn’t do it justice. This was bat [expletive] crazy.

Top 25 Under 25: What could push #10 Travis Dermott into the NHL lineup? (PPP)
Raw Charge’s stats guy Loserpoints gave this interpretation of the data: “Dermott’s shot rate is firmly in that low-end first pair range, which is encouraging. All around, that’s a solid profile for a player in his first professional season. Not spectacular but definitely reasonable for a first year.” Also more than reasonable for a player who also had to spend some of the season rehabilitating from injury.

Will Butcher met with 5 teams in free agency – Leafs not among them (SBN)
The Buffalo Sabres, Vegas Golden Knights, and New Jersey Devils are among the five teams that met with Butcher on Wednesday, according to the player’s agent, Stephen Bartlett. The Columbus Blue Jackets have also made a pitch to Butcher, per The Athletic’s Craig Custance. Bartlett told the Associated Press he’s set to talk with other teams in the coming days. On the flip side, The Athletic says the Chicago Blackhawks, Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, and San Jose Sharks have not contacted Butcher. At this point, it’s probably fair to scratch them off the list of potential suitors.

What life is like for a former NHLer playing in the AHL (The Athletic)
It’s surprisingly hard for AHL teams now tasked with managing this fragile relationship. Sometimes a team is blessed and it gets someone like Colin Greening with the Toronto Marlies, who doesn’t expect to be treated any different. Someone who will work hard and push to get back to the NHL in any role he’s put in and who will motivate and push younger players to be better. Players like him fully integrate themselves into the group, make life workable for the coaching staff, and in the case of Greening and others, generally earn follow-up contracts befitting their professionalism.

Gallant thinks Vegas can ‘win and compete consistently’ in first season (PHT)
“I knew we were going to have a pretty decent team, but the team was better than I thought,” head coach Gerard Gallant said, per “I thought we got better top-end players than I thought we’d get. So I think we did a real good job building our team. Is it good enough to win and compete consistently? I think it is.”

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