It seems like an unbelievable story. A boy from the desolate hockey market of Arizona grows up to play in the NHL. Not only is that journey an accomplishment in and of itself, but he also breaks multiple records in his rookie season. It may still feel like a dream to most Toronto Maple Leafs fans, as it’s been a long time since they had a player of Auston Matthews’ calibre.
Heading into this season there were doubts about how he would do in his first year in the NHL. Can he live up to the hype? How will he manage the transition to the NHL? Will he be the Leafs’ savior? By now any and all doubts about Matthews have been washed away. Matthews has had a tremendous rookie season and has been instrumental in helping the Leafs stay in the playoff hunt this late in the season.
Matthews has had a rookie season for the record books. So with the season almost over, let’s take a look at all that he has accomplished and all the records he’s broken.
Maple Leafs Records
With the amount of talent and rookies the Leafs have this season, it can be tough to keep track of all the records they break. Mitch Marner and William Nylander have done their fair share of record-breaking, but Matthews has kept the spotlight all season. And with good reason.
The first major record that Matthews broke was the Leafs’ rookie goal record. It was previously held by Wendel Clark with 34 goals in his rookie season, which was all the way back in 1985-86.
Clark was the Leafs’ last first overall draft pick. So it’s only proper that Matthews, a first overall pick himself, be the one to break that 31-year-old record.
Matthews has shown that he can score in every way possible, whether it is by deking through defenders and past the goalie with a great move, with a quick wrist shot in the slot, or even just by banging in a rebound. He is the complete package and everything you could ask for in a hockey player.
The last two players to score this many goals for the Leafs were Phil Kessel with 37 and Mats Sundin with 41. With now 39 goals on the season, Matthews has cemented his place alongside those two players as being an elite goal-scorer.
— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) April 3, 2017
That 39th goal was also Matthews’ 67th point this season, which broke the Leafs record for points as a rookie. The point record was previously set by Peter Ihnacak back in the 1982-83 season with 66 points.
It’s hard to compare Matthews to any previous Leafs rookie when he’s shown that he is the best Leafs rookie of all time. That’s not to take away anything from what Leafs legends accomplished later in their careers, but the Leafs just haven’t had a player make this much of an impact in their rookie season. To find any comparable player requires looking beyond the Leafs organization.
The All-American Great
Matthews’ 39th goal of the season not only broke the record for points as a Leafs rookie, but it also broke the record for most goals by an American rookie. This was a record that was set by Neal Broten with the Minnesota North Stars in the 1981-82 season.
Although there are still three more games for Matthews to play this season, his 39 goals put him among an elite group of rookie scorers. A problem can arise when comparing all rookies since some play their first season in their mid-twenties while others are still teenagers. So it would make sense to compare rookies of similar ages.
Above is a chart that shows goals by rookies aged 19 years and younger. Now you’ll notice that Matthews is tied with Sidney Crosby’s rookie goal total. So as a teenager, Matthews is the best rookie goal scorer the NHL has seen since Crosby entered the league.
Most #NHL Rookie Goals Since 1993-94:
Alex Ovechkin (2005-06) – 52
Sidney Crosby (2005-06) – 39
Auston Matthews (2016-17) – 39
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) April 4, 2017
Matthews’ goal totals are still impressive outside of comparing rookie seasons, as he is tied for second in the NHL with 39 goals. The only player with more goals is Crosby with 43.
What all these records and stats show is that Matthews is one of the best players in the NHL. And he’s only 19 years old.
To see his name beside NHL greats is still surreal. Leafs fans aren’t accustomed to thinking of one of their players in that light. Sure, the Leafs have had tremendous goal scorers on the team before, but not as a rookie. The records that Matthews has broken in his rookie season are a sign that there is more to come. More records to break and more accomplishments to achieve. Matthews is still young and has a bright future ahead of him as a star in the NHL.
Toronto Maple Leafs contributor for The Hockey Writers.
I’ve been a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs since I was a kid and have always had an interest in writing. At The Hockey Writers, I get to enjoy both of my passions as well as writing about small convoluted details in player contracts and stats.