In his debut game for the Toronto Maple Leafs on Oct. 12 against the Ottawa Senators, No. 1 draft pick center Auston Matthews proved to the world he has the potential to be one of the biggest names in hockey. He put up all four of his team’s goals that night. When eyes were first laid on Matthews in September at the Hockey World Cup, he put up a fantastic international showing for Team North America, scoring twice in three games. This sparked great expectations, as people anticipated that Matthews would transfer his exciting skillset over to the National Hockey League. These expectations were not only met, but blown completely out of the water. A goal in his first game seemed to be the target for many hopeful observers—and Matthews scored four.
The 19-year-old became the first player in the modern era to score four goals in his NHL debut game. The feat had only ever been done twice before, both during the inaugural season of the NHL in 1917. Right wing Harry Hyland of the Montreal Wanderers and center Joe Malone of the Montreal Canadiens scored five goals in their first game in the newly formed NHL on Dec. 19, 1917, according to Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Matthews also racked up other honors, including most goals scored by a No. 1 draft-pick in a debut game and the first No. 1 draft-pick with two first-period goals in their NHL debut.
Despite Matthews’ outstanding performance, Toronto still lost the game in overtime, but the spotlight remained on Matthews. What he accomplished that night had not been seen on the ice of the NHL in 99 years, and—quite honestly—it may take just as long to see it again.
Over the years, hockey has experienced a negative trend line in goals scored by an individual on the season. Back in the days of center Wayne Gretzky, it wasn’t uncommon to see “The Great One” put up 50+ goals per season consistently, even reaching as high as 92 in the ’81-’82 season.
In the NHL today, however, very few players will reach the 50-goals-scored mark in a season. The only exception to this rule is Washington Capitals’ captain and left-wing Alexander Ovechkin. The Russian winger has hit this mark seven times in his 11 seasons of play.
What the world saw in Matthews was the potential of a player who can rival that limit. Granted, it is one game of many, but Matthews is already well on track to hit the mark after only playing two games.
Although there is little chance of him scoring the most goals this season against big names like Ovechkin, right-wing Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks, left-wing Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars and right-wing Vladimir Tarasenko of the St. Louis Blues, he can certainly give well known rookies a run for their money. This includes such players as Edmonton Oilers’ captain center Connor McDavid and center Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres—who were last year’s No. 1 and 2 draft picks, respectively—despite the duo’s experience.
Moreover, Auston Matthews is only 19. He’s already played a year in Switzerland professionally, scored multiple goals on the international stage and rewrote some of the longest standing records in NHL history. Great things are to come from this rising star in the future, especially after a few years of experience.
Pre-order your rookie cards now, because Matthews’ future could be the start of a new era for Maple Leafs hockey.