Mike Babcock on Auston Matthews at camp: “He’s skating at another level”


Mike Babcock addressed the media after the final day of on-ice training camp sessions for the Toronto Maple Leafs in Niagara Falls ahead of the first round of cuts.

On the three days of camp in Niagara Falls

Babcock: It’s three days of camp. We obviously tried to accomplish something, not only in getting to know a lot of players but in trying to get a foundation built, obviously, and establish some work ethic. It’s early in camp and we have a long way to go, but a lot of these kids will be going home and then we’ll get down to two teams for the first four games. We’ll give as many guys as many opportunities as we can and then we’ll shorten up so we can see the people that are really trying out.

It’s a small sample size, but did Kapanen and Leivo impress you, at least in the opportunities they had over the course of three days?

Babcock: Kap is a real good skater. I thought Lindholm and him played well. [Johnsson] can get to another level. I think he will. As far as Leivo goes, I thought Leivo worked hard here today. Leivs has got the ability. He’s got to work hard each and every day and he’s got to find a way to win a job.

Were you pleased with the defense in the scrimmage games?

Babcock: Yeah, I mean, really the evaluation time is coming for them. We’ll figure it out as we go.

What are you expecting to see out of a guy like Igor Ozhiganov based on what you just saw in the first three days?

Babcock: I just think there is about five of them that are in a real battle for a job. Ozhiganov is 6’3, has a good stick, his head is up all the time. He’s still got to figure out… any time you come from the big rink to the little rink, it’s quick. It’ll take him a little while, but he looks like an intelligent player.

Is there the potential for him and Dermott as a pair, do you think?

Babcock: I don’t know. We put three pairs together and they’re all kind of in the same boat. We’ll see what happens.

You must be looking forward to seeing what these guys can do in the first game of preseason and as you go through preseason?

Babcock: For sure. You’ve been off for a long time and you’re trying to get up to speed and get back. It’s about learning how to work again. It’s about doing things right. It’s about details. It’s about getting the goaltenders going. You’ve got to be ready to go October 3rd, and we understand that.

What do you want to see out of Dermott now that he’s had that experience with you guys at the end of last season into the playoffs?

Babcock: I want him to act like he’s trying to make the team. Intensity and jump and compete. Young guys… sometimes when you arrive, what happens to you is you think, “Okay, I’ve arrived now.” But the other guys want your job. It’s about getting better every day. I think him and [Johnsson] are in the same boat that way. They went down, won a championship, and yet, it’s the NHL. You’ve got to win a job.

Coming off of last year and how Game 7 went, how many times would you have watched that game afterward and picked out things from it?

Babcock: I picked out all the clips. I didn’t watch the game over again. It was so evident to me that we were in the driver’s seat going into the third period. The puck went in our net and we didn’t get the result we wanted. You’re talking about Game 7; Game 7 doesn’t matter. When you don’t show up for the first two, that was the biggest thing in the series. We weren’t prepared to play at a high enough level at playoff time. Not that we didn’t talk about it lots, but we still weren’t ready.

The year before, we were in the playoffs and the team we were playing everyone thought would slap us around. In the end, they beat us three straight at the end if I’m not mistaken.

Boston lost in the next round. The team that beat Boston lost in the next round. That sounds to me like we’re not quite where we think we are. We’ve got some work to do.

The Marlies success — how big has that been in terms of making this a competitive camp?

Babcock: I think the Marlies‘ success is because they had good players. When I look at Moore, I think Moore has been fantastic. High octane and he goes. I think Engvall can become a good player that you can use. Real good pace. Grundstrom has got to dig in here. He is another guy that can be an NHL player. And then they had those D there that I don’t know the answer to that. The American league and the NHL is a different bird. One has lots of space and one has no space. So we’ll see.

What have you seen out of Calle Rosen so far?

Babcock: Well, he’s improved a lot. It’s called confidence. Now, the biggest thing is he’s got to do it against NHL players. The problem with these scrimmages is there is one group that goes out that is NHL against NHL. The rest are not NHL. It’s hard to evaluate.

Looking at Matthews throughout the entire three days, it’s almost like he’s pushing himself to get to another level.

Babcock: Well, he should be. The biggest difference to me is his skating. He skated good at the end of last year. He’s skating at another level. I think he is really in shape. He feels good about himself. He put in a lot of work this summer. That’s what everyone is supposed to do. Everyone is supposed to find a way to get another level in the offseason. Obviously, he wasn’t happy with how it ended. But he got hurt three times last year. That affected, any way you look at it, his ability to stay fit, especially with the injuries he had.

Scrimmage Highlights – September 16