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Babcock: Matthews can be a 'dominant center' by Christmas

Charles LeClaire / USA TODAY Sports

Mike Babcock is expecting something nice under the tree this year.

After reflecting upon the first 15 games of Auston Matthews' NHL career, the Toronto Maple Leafs head coach is expecting the 19-year-old to be a top player at his position before the calendar turns to 2017.

"We need him to be a dominant, dominant center for us (and) we think he's going to be by Christmastime," Babcock said Tuesday, per TSN. "We think he's a very good player already, but we think he can be lights out both with and without the puck."

Babcock's statement comes as Matthews is mired in a nine-game scoring drought, albeit with 22 shots on goal in six November games, suggesting a breakout is coming.

Babcock said he showed Matthews clips of Sidney Crosby and Henrik Zetterberg, and believes Matthews can handle the rigors of starting out in the middle as opposed to transitioning from the wing, where life can be easier for rookies.

Matthews likes to have the puck, Babcock noted, and is already showing signs of the kind of dominant possession game that comes with both handling and tracking the puck.

The 2016 first overall pick sits in a tie for second among rookies in points with 12, and, according to Babcock, is just getting started.

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