Auston Matthews entered the league with much fanfare and anticipation. Every season, NHL scouts pin point who is the number one overall prospect for that year’s upcoming draft. This past year, Matthews earned the honor of being named the number one prospect.
Matthews story is very intriguing, as he grew up playing hockey in Arizona, a non-traditional spot for the sport. The then 18-year-old, now 19, showed such skill during his tenure in Switzerland while playing for the Zurich Lions that the “Lost One for Auston Campaign” was created. The “Lost One for Auston Campaign” was a creation made by fans of underperforming hockey teams during the 2015-2016 season, who expressed the desire that their favorite team would get better odds in the draft lottery if their team continued to lose. It’s a weird concept to want your favorite team to lose. However, Matthews had such talent that fans did not want their team to pass up the chance to draft him. After the 2015-2016 regular season and the draft lottery, the winner of the Auston Matthews sweepstakes was the Toronto Maple Leafs.
On October 12, the day that all Maple Leafs fans and NHL fans have been waiting for arrived. The debut of Auston Matthews. The Maple Leafs were on the road against the Ottawa Senators. Whenever a top rookie makes their NHL debut, fans wonder how long it will take for them to score their first goal. In Matthews case, it did not take long, as he scored his first career goal 8:21 into the first period, after being left open in front of the net after a few deflections.
Less than six minutes later, Matthews showed why he was the projected overall prospect in hockey. Matthews would skate around two Senators players at center ice, lose the puck to Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson. Matthews would stick-lift Karlsson, regain the puck, skate to the net, and scored his second goal of the game on a low shot from a sharp angle on Senators goaltender Craig Anderson. You can watch this incredible play all over the Internet, the video does more justice to explain it.
At 1:25 into the second period, Matthews made history as he scored his third goal, and now had his first career hat trick. Defenseman Morgan Reilly passed the puck to Matthews, who shot the puck into the opening of the glove side of the net. Even on the road, the NHL tradition of fans throwing their hats on the ice still went on, with Senators fans gaining appreciation of Matthews. Matthews became the first rookie since New York Rangers center Derek Stepan to score a hat trick in his NHL debut on October 9th, 2010.
Matthews night was not over as he would score his fourth goal of the game 19:57 into the second period. Matthews and center William Nylander were on a two-on-one breakaway, where Nylander would pass the puck across to Matthews, leaving Anderson vulnerable, and Matthews would squeak the puck through the open side of the net.
The Maple Leafs would lose the game in overtime to the Senators 5-4, but fans have plenty to look forward to with Matthews at the helm.
“For me, from my perspective, since I’ve been a Leafs coach, that’s the best night we’ve had since I’ve been here by ten miles, not even close,” said Maple Leafs Head Coach Mike Babcock. “Now we have an opportunity.”
Despite his individual night, Matthews was bummed that the team couldn’t get the win. He even blamed himself for contributing to giving up the overtime goal to Senators center Kyle Turris.
“That’s definitely my fault on that last goal,” said Matthews. “…but you just have to learn from it and build off [of it].”
Matthews has even earned the respect of the team he was scoring on in his debut.
“It’s going to do a lot for his confidence, that’s for sure,” said Turris. “He’s a very good player. Physically, he’s a man at 19 years old. So he’s physically ready for the game.”
Fans in the NHL were awestruck at Matthews’ performance, and it’s showing in merchandise sales. A day after his NHL debut, his jersey was officially on sale on shop.NHL.com, and as of October 18, Matthews has the top selling jersey on the site. Matthews is ahead of NHL superstars Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and Patrick Kane.
Matthews has many fans excited for the future of hockey, and if his first career game was a preview, then his future is looking very bright.