Maple Leafs’ Matthews had sea­son for the ages

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS -

TORONTO | It took all of 14 min­utes 18 sec­onds for Aus­ton Matthews to set his first record this sea­son.

On a mid-Oc­to­ber night in Ot­tawa, Matthews be­came the first player picked first over­all at the NHL draft to score two goals in his first pe­riod. He fin­ished as the only player in the league’s 100-year his­tory to score four times in a de­but.

The 19-year-old plays his first play­off game for the Toronto Maple Leafs in Wash­ing­ton later this week. But he has al­ready had a his­toric rookie sea­son by any mea­sure.

“You knew he had the tal­ent,” Chicago Black­hawks cap­tain Jonathan Toews said, “But some­times it’s just a mat­ter of time be­fore it trans­lates to the NHL and ob­vi­ously he’s wasted no time. So you kind of won­der, if that’s how he comes out of the gate what’s he go­ing to be like in a cou­ple years from now?”

Matthews set fran­chise rookie records by scor­ing 40 goals and col­lect­ing 69 points, eclips­ing marks by Wen­del Clark and Peter Ih­nacak that had stood for decades.

He’s the first rookie since Alex Ovechkin to score 40 goals, one of only 19 in league his­tory and one of only six teenagers. He’s only the fourth to hit the mark be­fore his 20th birth­day and is now the high­est-scor­ing Amer­i­can rookie in league his­tory. Only Sid­ney Crosby scored more goals in the NHL (44) this sea­son.

Matthews topped even Crosby, and ev­ery­one else, with 32 even-strength goals. That tied him for the six­th­high­est to­tal ever for a rookie, match­ing Eric Lin­dros, Mario Lemieux and Mike Gart­ner. He’s one of nine rook­ies to ever score that many and the first since 1993.

Al­ready 6-3 and 216 pounds, Matthews did it with power, speed and elec­tric skill.

“He scores goals dif­fer­ent ways and I think that’s prob­a­bly a big rea­son why he’s been so con­sis­tent is he’s got a great shot, but he can also score from in close and goes to the net hard, too,” Crosby said.

Matthews fin­ished with 19 wrist shot goals, 10 snap-shot mark­ers, six via tip and an­other five on the back­hand. Matthews set a new Leafs rookie record in fir­ing 279 shots. The only rook­ies in NHL his­tory with more? Teemu Se­lanne with 387, Ovechkin with 425, Wayne Gret­zky with 284 and Dale Haw­er­chuk with 339.

Matthews led the NHL in scor­ing 14 game-open­ing goals, equal­ing Dave An­dr­ey­chuk’s fran­chise record.

Born in Cal­i­for­nia, but raised in Ari­zona, Matthews learned the game in chilly rinks across the desert where ice time and proper com­pe­ti­tion wasn’t al­ways easy to find. There was no junior hockey league dom­i­na­tion like Crosby or Connor McDavid.

What was so im­pres­sive to Crosby was how ma­ture Matthews seemed al­ready. There were nights of fu­til­ity cer­tainly, in­clud­ing against Crosby and Hen­rik Zet­ter­berg, and he got ham­mered in the face­off cir­cle (46.8 per­cent), but gen­er­ally Matthews held his own while lead­ing all Leaf for­wards in gar­ner­ing al­most 18 min­utes of ice time per night.

“I think that the big­gest thing that stands out is prob­a­bly just how com­plete he is,” Crosby said.

It could earn him the Leafs’ first Calder tro­phy in 51 years, mak­ing him Toronto’s first rookie of the year since Brit Selby in 1966. S

“Ob­vi­ously (Matthews) is a spe­cial tal­ent,” Toronto coach Mike Bab­cock said. “More im­por­tantly, Matthews is a spe­cial per­son. That’s go­ing to al­low him to be a good leader be­cause he does it right ev­ery day. In the end, that’ll al­low him to drive a fran­chise and it’ll al­low him to win. I think he’s a real good player and a real good man and has a chance to be a spe­cial player.”

Toronto Maple Leafs for­ward Aus­ton Matthews set fran­chise rookie records by scor­ing 40 goals and amass­ing 69 points.

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