Things have not been going well for Leafs nation as of late. The Toronto Maple Leafs are currently sitting 14th in the Eastern Conference, and are just 3-4-3 in their last 10 games. One upside to their recent struggles, however, has been the strong play from forward Auston Matthews, who brought a lot of attention around the league earlier this season when he experienced a scoring drought of up to 13 games. With this drought came overreaction, but with his strong plays and flashes of greatness, there really seems to be no need to worry about Matthews play as of yet.
Being the first overall pick in this year’s NHL entry draft, Auston Matthews had a lot of pressure on him already, and it didn’t help that he landed in arguably the most devoted and hockey-crazy market in the NHL. In fact, Leafs fans loved him so much that his jersey flew to the top of the NHL’s sales chart after his first game.
With this pressure and constant coverage, it must be hard at times for a young player to make an impact. The Leafs are young, and already have high expectations set on them. Matthews is also expected to be the leader of this team that will bring a Stanley Cup back to Toronto after 50 years. He has to learn to deal with this pressure if he wants to succeed in Toronto.
Fortunately, Matthews already seems to be equipped with the personality and playing skills to survive in Toronto. Despite the media frenzy that surrounded him at his low points such as his recent scoring drought, he remained determined, responsible, and motivated–all good traits proving that he wouldn’t let the pressure get to him.
Back to His Old Self
Everyone knows what Auston Matthews is capable of. You don’t go first overall for nothing after all.
From his first regular season NHL game, in which he scored four goals, everyone knew he was something special. But with this skill comes expectations, which Matthews can surely meet despite some road bumps along the way.
After Matthews broke his early season scoring drought, he has been absolutely spectacular for the Leafs, becoming their sole leader in points and goals.
#Leafs Auston Matthews now has 10 points in his last 10 games (8 G, 2 A).
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) December 16, 2016
He has been playing at a point per game pace as of recently, and shows no signs of slowing down.
Being a rookie in the NHL obviously means Matthews has some learning to do before he can become consistent. He has to properly adapt his game to the speed of the NHL, which is obviously faster than the Swiss league. Although he may have struggled at first, he has really shown he can pick things up where he left off and become a dominant force in the game.
Obviously being a first overall pick, Matthews will constantly be compared to those who went first overall in recent years, in addition to players in his own draft class. This may not be the best way to measure a player’s progress, but unfortunately it is done far too often. Nevertheless, Matthews is proving that he is able to be compared to those number one’s before him.
Matthews currently has 14 goals and nine assists in 30 games this season. He currently sits tied for seventh in the league for goal scoring as well. Quite the accomplishments for a young rookie. Scoring at this rate, he is on pace for around 40 goals.
Auston Matthews is now on pace for 38 goals. Only rookies to score at least that many in the last 20 years? Ovechkin (52) and Crosby (39).
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) December 14, 2016
Taking a look at other first overall picks who were forwards in the league’s recent drafts, and their first-year performances, it is easy to see that Matthews is exactly where he should be in terms of performance.
|Draft Year||First Overall Pick||Games Played||Goals||Assists||Points|
|2004||Alexander Ovechkin (LW)||81||52||54||106|
|2005||Sidney Crosby (C)||81||39||63||102|
|2007||Patrick Kane (RW)||82||21||51||72|
|2008||Steven Stamkos (C)||79||23||23||46|
|2009||John Tavares (C)||82||24||30||54|
|2010||Taylor Hall (LW)||65||22||20||42|
|2011||Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (C)||62||18||34||52|
|2012||Nail Yakupov (LW)||48||17||14||31|
|2013||Nathan MacKinnon (C)||82||24||39||63|
|2015||Connor McDavid (C)||45||16||32||48|
It is important to note that NHL scoring numbers have also been deflating from the past. Players like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin may have put up over 100 points over 10 years ago, but that is more of a rare occurrence in today’s league.
Players like Patrick Kane, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Taylor Hall, and Nathan MacKinnon, who are all essential players in today’s league, have all actually produced at a slower rate than Matthews is currently.
Matthews currently has 15 goals and 24 points in 31 games. This is nearly half the amount of points that prolific scorers like Stamkos and Tavares put up in their rookie years in more than half the amount of games. Matthews’ goal total is also already dangerously close to what Kane, Stamkos, Tavares, Hall, and MacKinnon put up in full seasons of play.
Players like Stamkos and Tavares, and even Kane and Hall, all were able to grow and increase their production significantly from their rookie year. If Auston Matthews is already putting on a show, he can potentially develop into a forward as good as them, if not better.
Auston Matthews is what the Leafs have needed for a long time now–a strong number one centre to anchor their team. Overreaction is normal in Toronto when it comes to hockey. But is it really needed for a rookie who is already leading a team in scoring? Highly doubtful.
Auston Matthews has lots of time to grow, and if he develops well like past stars have, he can become one of the most prominent players in the NHL’s future. So there really is no need to complaining or worry about the obstacles that Matthews may face, he is already is off to a great start for a rookie.