When a guy like Jason Spezza speaks, people listen. After all, the 19-year veteran is closing in on 1,000 career points and he’s been around long enough to see some incredible players come through the league.
While it’s a conversation that has become more prominent amongst hockey circles, Spezza made it very clear in a recent interview where he stands when it comes to who should be up for the NHL’s most valuable player – his teammate, Auston Matthews.
Spezza made note of how Matthews has been a game breaker all season. He mentioned his practice habits – which many of us don’t get to see – and his ability to process the game quickly. But what people should take away from Spezza’s comments is his recognition of Matthews’ ability on the defensive side of the puck as well.
Maple Leafs’ Matthews a Legitimate Contender for Hart, Selke
The Rocket Richard is an award that Matthews is already a contender for based solely on his goal-scoring abilities. We saw him take home the award last season and he’s right at the top of the league again this season having missed a number of games due to various injuries.
But what about the Hart Memorial Trophy and the Frank J. Selke Trophy?
It’ll be tougher to argue that he’s a top three contender for the Hart Trophy simply because of how valuable players like Igor Shesterkin and Jonathan Huberdeau have been for their respective franchises. But that shouldn’t take away from bringing Matthews’ name up in the conversation.
He’s fourth in the league in points (68). He’s first in goals (37) and he’s top-five in points per game this season (1.39). What makes it more of a conversation worth having is that of his 68 points this season, just 22 have come on the man advantage.
His line, with Mitch Marner and Michael Bunting have been one of the best lines in hockey since Jan. 1 with Bunting climbing the rookie scoring race and Matthews hasn’t put his goal scoring ahead of the success of any other player on the team.
When it comes to points at 5v5, Matthews is second in the league behind only Johnny Gaudreau and has picked his team up – singlehandedly – at times this season.
As for some of his other metrics, Matthews is 12th in the league in 5v5 Corsi For Percentage (CF%) at 58.84 amongst players with a minimum of 300 minutes played. He’s sixth on the Maple Leafs in blocked shots (37) and he’s thrown his body around this season with 34 hits. While it doesn’t seem like much, to have your star player getting involved physically is something worth noting.
As for the Selke, his defensive numbers speak for themselves and it’s being recognized by his teammates, like Spezza. As with the Hart, he’ll be up against some tough competition in Patrice Bergeron and other former winners like Ryan O’Reilly, but his play this season has justified his name being amongst the league’s best defensive forwards.
Matthews is playing at the top of league – amongst the best. It’s because of that, that people are taking notice.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.