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McDavid, Matthews chase separate milestones Saturday as Leafs host Oilers

Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid have grown closer off the ice.

The star centres sometimes skate together in the summer and now share the same agent.

They also possess unique perspectives on what the other deals with as a face of the NHL.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for him as a player, as a person,” said Matthews, the razor-sharp Maple Leafs sniper. “A guy that takes on a lot of responsibility with who he is.”

The duo will once again be in the spotlight Saturday when Toronto hosts McDavid’s Edmonton Oilers.

And not just because of the usual name recognition.

Matthews has scored 57 times in 67 games as part of his quest to become the first NHL player to reach 70 goals since 1992-93.

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McDavid, meanwhile, has 86 assists in 65 contests and is on pace to crack the century mark for the first time since 1990-91.

“They’ve been unbelievable,” Leafs captain John Tavares said following Friday’s practice. “They’re gonna define this generation of players with their skill set, how they’ve impacted the game. They’re changing the game in a lot of ways.”

Click to play video: 'Céline Dion jokes around with Edmonton Oilers in locker room visit for Las Vegas game'

Céline Dion jokes around with Edmonton Oilers in locker room visit for Las Vegas game

Tavares has had a front-row seat.

The 33-year-old centre, who like Matthews and McDavid was the No. 1 pick in the draft, lost out on the 2014-15 Art Ross Trophy as the league’s top scorer by one point.

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Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars won that year with a total of 87, which wouldn’t crack the current top-10 with 3 1/2 weeks still remaining on the schedule.

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“It might seem a long time ago,” Tavares said. “It’s really not that long ago.”

Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said the offensive explosion across the league is partially due to rules changes.

“That said,” he added, “the talent level of players is outrageous when we start talking about some of these guys.”

Click to play video: 'Fans travel from all over for Toronto Maple Leafs practice at Nathan Phillips Square'

Fans travel from all over for Toronto Maple Leafs practice at Nathan Phillips Square

Matthews said those on-ice summer skill sessions with lightning-quick McDavid are beneficial for both parties.

“Everybody has different strengths and different weaknesses,” said Matthews, who possesses one of hockey’s best releases with the puck. “His game is very unique, and there’s a lot of stuff that I’m not as good as far as the way he skates. There’s not really anybody in the world — maybe one other guy — that can skate like him.

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“You just try to take different pieces and try to weave into your own game, and try to play to your strengths.”

Teemu Selanne and Alexander Mogilny were the last NHLers to reach 70 goals when they each had 76 in 1992-93.

Wayne Gretzky is the most recent player to surpass 100 assists — the Great One did it 11 times and is one of just three men to accomplish the feat — some 33 years ago.

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“They’ve done a tremendous job,” Tavares said of McDavid and Matthews raising the bar. “How they’ve impacted the game, how dominant they are, the consistency night in and night out.”

The Leafs (39-20-9) enter Saturday firmly entrenched in the Atlantic Division’s No. 3 spot, unlikely to move up or down before the regular season’s conclusion.

The Oilers (42-21-4), meanwhile, still have designs on first in the Pacific thanks to their current 9-1-2 run.

McDavid, however, wasn’t thrilled with his team’s last two performances — a 3-2 overtime decision against Montreal and an 8-3 victory over Buffalo that included a 2-0 deficit and a five-goal third period.

“Games that could have gone the other way,” Edmonton’s captain told reporters in the Alberta capital following Thursday’s win. “We would be having a different conversation.”

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Matthews said his group will have to be ready on Scotiabank Arena’s centre stage.

“One of the hottest teams in the league,” he said. “They haven’t really slowed down.”

Neither have Saturday’s star attractions.

Chasing 50

Oilers winger Zach Hyman has scored an eye-popping 48 times this season and could hit 50 against his former team.

The 31-year-old, who never scored more than 21 goals over his five full seasons with Toronto, signed with Edmonton in July 2021.

Hyman put up 27 and 36 goals with the Oilers his first two campaigns before breaking out in 2023-24.

“Evolution curve is pretty outstanding,” Tavares said. “I don’t think many people had him pegged to be where he is and what he’s on the verge of doing.”

Marner missing

Leafs winger Mitch Marner will sit out the weekend — Toronto visits Carolina on Sunday — with a high ankle sprain that has already cost him five games.

Brodie sits

Once a minute-crunching mainstay on the blue line, Leafs defenceman T.J. Brodie looks set to be a healthy scratch for a second consecutive contest.

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“Brods is a better player than he’s played,” Keefe said. “He’s also played better hockey than the perception might be.”

“I’d just like him to clear his head,” the coach continued. “He’s had a tough go here right from the beginning of training camp.’

&© 2024 The Canadian Press

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