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Accolades For Leafs' Matthews Well Deserved

Bruce Penton takes a look at Maple Leafs superstar Auston Matthews
bruce penton sports

Some Western Canadians tend to disparage Maple Leafs superstar Auston Matthews, taking exception to the Tiger-like hype he receives from the national talking heads at Toronto-based networks, but that disparagement should end. The guy's a beast.

Matthews has a solid grip on the National Hockey League’s Rocket Richard trophy, which goes to the player scoring the most goals. Matthews had 58 goals in the Leafs’ first 72 games, a pace that would bring him close to 70 season’s end. Seventy-goal seasons lie ahead.

Give him the RR trophy, and give him the respect he deserves.

Just like in Edmonton, where the offensive duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisailtl carry the bulk of the offensive load for the Oilers, the Leafs have a two-headed offensive monster, too. Matthews and linemate Mitch Marner, both of whom have been solidly entrenched among the NHL’s top 10 scorers this season, guide the Leafs’ fortunes.

Unfortunately, neither of the two high-scoring duos seems to have the required support to rally their teams to long playoff runs. Both the Leafs and Oilers have relatively weaker secondary scoring groups, which makes it easier for opponents to key on the two superstars. Tight checking is a playoff staple, and Matthews will have to be inventive to find some open ice to take the Leafs on an extended playoff run.

But overall, his play in 2021-22 has been sublime. He was the first NHLer to hit the 50-goal mark. He scores with a big shot, deft, in-close stickhandling, great stickwork for tip-ins, or just bulling his 6-foot-3, 205-pound body into the crease after loose pucks. He now owns the Leafs’ franchise record for most goals in one season. and is only the third Leaf to surpass 100 points in a season. 

Matthews’ value to the Leafs has been recognized by pundits who discuss Hart Trophy (most valuable player) candidates. He regularly logs between 21 and 25 minutes of ice time and when he’s not scoring, he’s dishing the puck to Marner, or Michael Bunting, or William Nylander, or back to the point to Morgan Rielly, as his wholesome assist total would attest.

Matthews, who grew up in Arizona and may go down as the greatest American-born player in NHL history, is only 24, and already has impressive career totals. He made a huge splash in his first NHL game, scoring a hat trick in 2016-17’s season opener. Since then, he has had goal-scoring seasons of 40, 34, 37, 47, 41 and whatever total he hits this year, perhaps mid- to high-60s. While McDavid’s overall speed and skill puts him on a pedestal above all other NHLers, there’s nothing wrong with owning the title as the game’s best goal-scorer.

And the Leafs are lucky to have that guy in their lineup night after night.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.