In 2016, after the draft lottery but before the Leafs actually selected him, I wrote that “Auston Matthews scores goals, and plenty of them“, detailing how Toronto would be getting a center that wasn’t a prototypical distributor the fanbase may have been dreaming about. Instead, based on his numbers to that point, it was clear that Matthews would be more of a John Tavares or Tyler Seguin-like center in terms of boxcar numbers – a center with lethal shooting ability and some major drive to the net. Henrik Sedin or Nicklas Backstrom we weren’t getting.
But perhaps even I’ve been surprised by how insane of a goal-scorer Matthews has developed into. At just 21, he’s showing signs of being an all-timer, a generational talent. And from my own “fan” standpoint, he’s quickly become a favourite Leaf during my lifetime. Seriously, his ability to bring your jaw to the floor almost every game is something we only see sparingly in the entire league, let alone on the club we root for. Go watch the 34 goals he scored last season, something like 30 of them belong on a highlight reel. It’s absurd.
Mike Babcock on Auston Matthews: "Matty's at another level right now."
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) September 24, 2018
The thing is, as wild as it sounds, Matthews is still improving, and at just 21-years-old has just had by far his sharpest training camp to date by all accounts. So the big question now becomes: How will that translate to his regular season numbers and overall performance? What can we expect from an offensive juggernaut who is still growing and just had another monster scorer added as a teammate?
At even-strength, Matthews is inarguably already the most dangerous pure goal scorer in the league. Unsurprisingly, in his third season, the biggest potential for growth will be on the powerplay, where, somewhat stunningly, he hasn’t really been used in a major way to date. Yes I know, it seems insane, but as incredible as Matthews has been, he has been reined in a little during his time with the Leafs. Perhaps that’s where the supposed ‘rift’ with Babcock partially stemmed from.
On TSN last night they said when the Leafs cut things down they'll settle on this PP1 for the opening of the season. A bit insane. pic.twitter.com/rhjPSptOuy
— Ryan (@ryanfancey) September 21, 2018
To put things in perspective as far as the powerplay goes, the top guys in the league last season averaged around 3:45 on the powerplay per game, with Ovechkin leading the way at a whopping 4:11. Tavares averaged 3:08 with the Isles. Matthews? He ranked 204th at 2:08. There’s so much more ice time to give this kid. When the powerplay opportunities start to come, the ceiling for Matthews seems almost endless. Also, given his line will be starting out with a bit more offensive finishing skill with Marleau taking the place of Hyman, there’s potential for his assist numbers to grow as well.
If he punches a full season, Matthews could very well win the Rocket Richard. I realize it feels weird to read those kinds of things heading into the season, just as it is to write them, because the Leafs’ history up until 2016 didn’t let us do that. But this is a rare player with rare skills. Don’t be afraid to overhype him.