Fans knew there was a reason for optimism this hockey season in Toronto. The Maple Leafs were expected to ice a young lineup full of speed and talent. Nikita Zaitsev, the dynamic Russian defenseman, would be a regular contributor on the blueline. Connor Brown, the former Erie Otter, had made the opening night roster.
Most of the excitement, however, was centered around the trio of youngsters who would be suiting to begin the season in Ottawa. Those three are William Nylander, Mitch Marner and the most recent first overall pick, Auston Matthews.
Of the three, Matthews was easily the most hyped up. A standout player for Team North America at the World Cup, he was looking to have a great Maple Leafs debut and show off what he could do.
One goal would have been more than enough to announce his arrival to the NHL. At the end of the night, Matthews not only had his first NHL goal but also goals two, three and four as well. It was an incredible display of skill from the rookie, who put everyone in the league on notice with his incredible night. Matthews made some history and became the first player in NHL history to score four goals in his regular season debut.
In the following clip, courtesy of the NHL Network, ‘On The Fly’ analyst Mike Johnson does an amazing job using virtual graphics to break down Auston Matthews’ second goal — his most impressive goal of the night.
The Maple Leafs did end up losing the game in overtime, but even the loss can’t overshadow what Matthews was able to do. For a fan base that has been so jaded in the past few years, that game was an absolute treat. No one is calling Matthews the saviour of the franchise. That would be an unfair title to place on a player so young.
Unsurprisingly, Auston Matthews the first player in NHL history with four goals in first NHL game #Leafs
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) October 13, 2016
But his amazing debut has given the fans, coaching staff, management and his own teammates something incredibly important. Hope for the future.
While Matthews stole the show in his debut, there were other players on the ice that night. Notable standouts included former London Knight Mitch Marner. The slick forward had some great chances including a partial breakaway but was unable to convert any of his chances.
After many questioned if Marner was NHL ready or not, it appears that the initial question has been answered. He looked good on the ice against the Senators. Playing with veterans like Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk is sure to help, but Marner had a solid and very noticeable debut. He amassed 17:36 of playing time which was second on the team behind Matthews, while also recording six shots, one of which was off the crossbar.
Mitch Marner already switching zones like a pro pic.twitter.com/iUlrwkyfye
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) October 12, 2016
William Nylander was also a visible presence on the ice. The shifty Swede was on a line with Zach Hyman and the aforementioned Matthews and was able to chip in a couple of assists throughout the night. Hyman and Nylander clearly have some chemistry from their time with the Marlies and throwing Matthews into the equation has already produced some explosive results.
nice pass from Nylander to set up the 4th goal pic.twitter.com/BzURUSCfIh
— steph (@myregularface) October 13, 2016
Nikita Zaitsev was also noticeable on the ice. Wooed over and subsequently recruited from the KHL, the young Russian looked solid in his first taste of NHL action. He logged 23:57, which was second to only Morgan Rielly on the night. He picked up more minutes after Matt Hunwick was forced to leave the game after taking a hard hit from Chris Neil.
Despite the loss, Mike Babcock had to be happy with the effort he saw from his club. They worked hard, drove possession and the rookies on the team stood out positively in many circumstances. The future is bright, and with the home opener just around the corner, expect the excitement level around these Maple Leafs to skyrocket.