Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Matthews, Zaitsev Skipping World Cup

Auston Matthews and Nikita Zaitsev will take a pass on this year's IIHF World Hockey Championships, which begin on May 5. Matthews told reporters that he feels pretty exhausted after a long season. The 19-year-old rookie scored 40 goals in the regular season to become the first rookie to score as many since Alexander Ovechkin scored 52 in the 2005-06 season. He added four goals in the playoffs for Toronto, who fell in six games to the Capitals in the first round of this year's playoffs.

"It's been a pretty long year for me," said Matthews. "It's just kind of been non-stop."

Zaitsev, who missed the first two games of the playoffs, has also decided against the Worlds, but it sounds like the Leafs played a larger role in that decision. The Russian suffered a concussion on the final game of the regular season and was cleared by the team's medical staff to play in the final four games of the series against the Capitals.

Here's the quotes from Mike Babcock on that subject, per the Toronto Sun:

“He’s playoff ready, but he needs time (off),” head coach Mike Babcock said of Zaitsev. “Because we’ve been given the opportunity (to influence him), he won’t play at the worlds, he needs to get 100% healthy. You go through our whole group, we have some banged-up guys. He played in the world championships, in the World Cup and all year for us - more hockey than he’s ever played. He needs to get freshened up. He has a big year (coming).”

As good as Matthews was this season, Babcock says that Matthews needs to be better next year and he knows it. "One thing about Auston is that he wants to be the best player," he said. "Guys that want to be the best player usually don't have too much trouble bearing down and getting to work -- he's a good worker anyway."

Babcock and GM lou Lamoriello kept hammering home two things in today's locker cleanout at Air Canada Centre. First, they are proud of the way the team improved this year and showed up in the playoffs. Second, they need to get better.

"I think obviously it was a huge deal for us and it was great that we were able to play a good team like Washington who gave you no space and no room and you had to really dig in and I thought that was really positive as well," Babcock said. "In saying all that the guys need to enjoy a couple of weeks off and they have to get to work. When you look at our roster we have a bunch of guys that need to put meat on their bones -- they're young guys -- and we have some guys that need to get quicker, lighter and we have other guys that just need to develop their bodies more. So we have a lot of work to do this off-season."