There have dozens of superstars in the NHL over the years but none of them, including Rocket Richard, Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin and Connor McDavid were able to achieve what Auston Matthews did in debut. The just-turned-19-year-old Toronto Maple Leafs centre, who was drafted first overall this summer, managed to score four goals in his very first NHL contest on October 12th. But in typical Leafs fashion, they managed to spoil the historic occasion somewhat by losing the overtime game 5-4 in Ottawa to the Senators.
To set the record straight though, Matthews became the first player to score four goals in his NHL debut in the modern era. Both Joe Malone and Harry Hyland managed to achieve the feat close to 100 years ago when they pulled it off back in 1917. When Matthews scored his third goal of the contest he became just the fifth player in history to record a hat trick an NHL debut. The previous players to set this record were Alex smart, Real Cloutier, Derek Stepan and Fabian Brunnstrom. However, Matthews is the first Leaf to do it. Matthews also became the 12th first-overall draft pick to score in his first encounter.
Perhaps Matthews’ red-hot debut shouldn’t have come as too much of a shock to fans who are familiar with his career. The teenager spent last season playing against fully-grown men in the Swiss league and led his Zurich SC squad in scoring with 24 goals and 22 assists for 46 points in 36 outings. However, he did slow down in the playoffs with just three assists in four games. Leafs’ fans shouldn’t get carried away with the youngster’s scoring exploits though as it was just one game. Matthews knows this as do the rest of his teammates and head coach Mike Babcock. It was definitely an historic night, but it was just that, one night.
The 6-foot-2-inch, 210 lb. power forward won’t be expected to lead the team in scoring this year and the franchise will be happy with what he can produce for it. Scoring goals isn’t something that can be taught so the Leafs’ coaching staff will be focusing on teaching Matthews how to become a better all-around 200-foot player. They’ll be teaching him faceoff skills along with fore-checking and back-checking habits and how to play his position without the puck. In fact, Babcock may have been more pleased with Matthews’ play in his second NHL game as the player made more of a defensive effort in the Leafs 4-1 home-opening win over Boston.
There wasn’t really too much difference in Matthews’ game otherwise than his scoring outburst when comparing his first two outings. His ice time actually fell from 17:37 in the first contest to 16:51 in the second. He recorded six shots on goal against Ottawa and had a pair against the Bruins even though he received an extra minute of ice time on the power play against Boston. He’s also recorded three takeaways in his first two games and been charged with one giveaway. The level-headed Matthews realizes he’s not going to dominate the league and even stood up and took the blame for the Senators overtime winner in his debut.
While his stick should be headed to the Hall of Fame after making history last week, Matthews himself may also one day be inducted along with it as he certainly passed the audition. If he can remain focused and blossom together with the rest of the Leafs’ young prospects such as Mitchell Marner, William Nylander and Nikita Zaitsev, then Toronto should be headed back to the playoffs in the next year or two.