Auston Matthews’ introduction to the NHL came at the NHL Draft 2016. The excitement surrounding his rookie season reached feverish levels when he recorded 4 goals in his debut game, becoming the first player in the NHL’s modern era to do so. This was just a glimpse of things to come as he finished the season leading all rookies in goals (40), points (69) and shots on goal (279). He elevated his game to an even higher level when he helped carry the Maple Leafs into their first playoff series since 2013, scoring 4 goals and 1 assist in 6 playoff games. Auston was also voted in by fans as the Maple Leafs representative at the NHL 2017 All Star Game, another huge honor to play alongside the league’s best players was just icing on an amazing year.
After such a performance and all the accolades, it was inevitable he would be crowned Calder Cup winner, the rookie of the year award. Behind all the statistical success, Auston grew as a player and future captain of the Maple Leafs. We witnessed a player at the mere age of 19 take on the challenge of leading this young team into the playoffs. Auston became a player other rookies on the team emulated in their own games and their attention to detail matched Auston’s all year.
We have not witnessed a player since Mats Sundin or Doug Gilmour embrace the challenges and expectations set out in front of him like we witnessed with Auston, especially when you consider he was entering his rookie season at such a young age. If what we have seen from him is any indication of his potential, last year is only the beginning. This is a young man driven to be the best player in the NHL. Auston is already one of the NHL’s most electrifying players, arguably second to only Connor McDavid. Auston has displayed the vision and skill required to break records and be featured on highlight reels for years to come.
One of the things that make Auston much more remarkable is his appreciation for the coaches and his teammates. In his speech he gave after winning the Calder trophy, Auston made mention of his gratitude towards his coaches and teammates who he felt helped him win this great honor and assisted in his development during the season. After Dominick Moore signed his contract with the Maple Leafs, eesharing in Moore’s excitement. These calls are typically made by the captain of the team and even though the Maple Leafs have not bestowed the “C” on his jersey, that did not stop Auston from realizing his responsibility to make new players welcome.
As a fan obsessed with the Maple Leafs, watching and cheering for them even during the most difficult times of late, one cannot help but be excited for what is to come when you see players like Auston growing into their own and already reaching such success so early in their careers. The goal of winning the Stanley Cup now seems more realistic than ever. I guess we have more of a reason to BeLeaf thanks to Auston and the rest of the Maple Leafs!