Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews played last season with a bum wrist and all he did was lead the league in goal scoring. After a recent surgical procedure to help put the alignment behind him, Matthews is looking forward to a big season in 2021-22. How big, you ask? It’s time to start thinking Hart Trophy big.
Last season was an up and down year for Matthews as his regular season was lights out, while he couldn’t seem to find the back of the net in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Not having John Tavares in the lineup hurt, as the Montreal Canadiens put Philipp Danault all over the Maple Leafs’ first-line center. Danault played out of his mind, shutting down Matthews to only light the lamp once in seven games. It was a learning experience for the young center and something he will grow from.
When it comes to the 2021-22 season, Matthews is expected to be fully healthy come training camp and a “normal” 82-game season with fans in the stands will help propel him to the next level. Playing alongside Mitch Marner again for their second full season together will also help as they were recently both in the top-five in the NHL scoring race. The sky is the limit for those two, and if Matthews is going to have an MVP season, he’s going to need a running mate to feed him the puck, and there may not be anyone better in the game than Marner when it comes to passing. It would actually benefit Matthews if Marner shot more, so hopefully, that’s the case next season, as it would help boost Matthews’ assist numbers as he only had 25 helpers last season in 52 games. This is an area for improvement if Matthews wants to end next season with some hardware.
Connor McDavid Stands in the Way of Victory
Winning the Hart trophy right now is a tall task as McDavid’s regular-season production is next level and a lot has to do with his ability to tally up the assists. His 105 points in 56 games were something to watch and it’s rather humorous he collected more assists (72) than almost everyone else had in points.
Nonetheless, McDavid can be taken off the podium and here’s how Matthews could do it. Before his wrist kept him out of the lineup, the Leafs’ center was on pace for almost 70 goals. It felt like every shot was close to going in for the big center and this upcoming season, we could see much of the same.
The power play for the Maple Leafs will be revamped with some new personnel in town, which could give Matthews the boost he needs in points. He’s always near the top of the league when it comes to 5-vs-5 points, and that’s also in line to improve as well. Head coach Sheldon Keefe is getting used to playing Matthews more as his 21:33 of ice-time a night in 2020-21 was a career-high. This number should go up next season and as we’ve all seen with the incline of his production, Matthews just keeps getting better. More ice time, more production, more Hart trophy votes.
Matthews’ Game is Evolving in All Aspects
While McDavid’s scoring figures are almost laughable to some degree, Matthews has the advantage when it comes to a two-way game. His takeaway numbers are always near the top of the NHL and it’s his 200-foot game that’s helped create the level of trust with his head coach. His stick-checking is elite and last season, Matthews showed he’s not afraid of contact, collecting a career-high with 57 hits in 52 games.
Another element the Arizona native has going for him is his confidence. Matthews recently took his general manager’s lead and let it be known he’s expecting the Maple Leafs to make the next step next season, and Leafs Nation will enjoy the success as No. 34 will be leading the way. Losing Zach Hyman won’t hurt as much as many people think and Matthews and Marner will be able to carry the load, regardless of who is playing on the left wing. Nick Ritchie or Michael Bunting are in line for the role, and whoever lands there on a regular basis expect them to post a career-high in points. All they’ll have to do is get to the net, create a net-front presence and be hard to knock off the puck. Take a look at Matthews’ goals from last season and you can put the “he needs Hyman to be successful” story to bed:
Matthews is an elite goal scorer developing into one of the best all-around players in the entire NHL. Season after season Leafs Nation has watched his game take strides and it’s going to be such a refreshment the team will be getting back to playing in front of sold-out crowds once again next season. With a healthy wrist, a familiar running mate, a revamped power play, and even more trust from his head coach, the soon-to-be 24-year-old is in line for his best season ever as a pro. Get ready for the “MVP” chants Leafs Nation; you’re in line for a season of the ages from the Maple Leafs’ best player.
Shane covers any and everything to do with the Toronto Maple Leafs & Pittsburgh Penguins. A constant contributor to the THW family, his passion and unique perspective on the game results in some diverse content. Certainly versatile, you can find Seney also contributing at NHLTradeRumors.me, BaseballRumors.me & BBallRumors.com. Follow along on Twitter @ShugMcSween