The Leafs and their fans have been crying out for a franchise center since the days of Sundin, and with them set to pick up Auston Matthews about seven weeks from now, they’ll finally get one.
But over the years that image of a dream pivot has sort of been seen as a distributor. In Kessel’s time here, we barked about him, as a sniper, not really having the support of a good puck-mover with vision. [It turned out he was a fine playmaker on his own, which quieted that down at least a little]. With Sundin it was almost the opposite, him never being given a true finisher outside Mogilny, and his distributing skills never being fully realized.
I’m probably speaking for myself to some extent, but the thinking in recent years has been that a player like Henrik Sedin or Nicklas Backstrom, a sort of 20G-50A guy would be the key ingredient in turning this team around.
Matthews won’t be that.
Prolific goal scoring ability and doesn’t wait for opportunities to show themselves. He makes his own luck, so to speak, maximizing the use of his body and stick to gain leverage against the toughest of opponents.
That’s a quick snippet from Matthews’ profile at EliteProspects, written by Curtis Joe this year.
It appears that we can probably toss out the idea of a pure passer when it comes to our pal Auston here. Toronto is getting someone more complete. Matthews’ goal-scoring ability as a center is absurd, and always has been.
If you look over his highlights (which I’m sure many of you have since Saturday), something that becomes clear in watching Matthews is that he’s able to chip in a lot of goals from close range. His ability to jump in tight to cash in as things develop in front of the net is incredible.
They look like easy goals, but of course, if they were easy everyone would score them. This is how he “makes his own luck”.
Going back as far as his time in Midget, you can see at every level that Matthews has been able to score goals at an obscene rate. In fact his 55 goals in a single season for the USNTDP is a record, just ahead of Patrick Kane’s mark of 52 from nearly a decade earlier.
(Numbers via EliteProspects)
As you can see, Matthews has never had trouble piling in goals at any stage in his junior or pro career. He didn’t even take a step back when playing against men this past season, with goals making up the majority of his point total, which has been the case a few times for him.
His totals during tournament play present some small sample size chunks, but add it all up, and overall at the international level as a junior he’s scored 25 goals in 32 games – a clip of 0.78 per game.
When it comes to comparing players, a lot of times folks are looking to put prospects into neat packages. They want to lump them in with a pro player such as a bruising forward like Lucic (think Crouse), or perhaps even a two-way possession demon like Kopitar (who Matthews has drawn comparisons to).
Placing guys into those style molds is difficult, and often turns out well off the mark. Matthews will be Matthews.
But in terms of boxcar production we can probably at least make some predictions there. In the case of Matthews, we’ll likely see him turn out as a balanced threat at center in terms of offence, and there aren’t a ton of those guys around. Put another way, his numbers will probably shake out more along the lines of centers like Tavares or Seguin or Eichel as opposed to some of the assist machines around the league like we mentioned up top. And don’t get me wrong, that isn’t a knock on the latter at all. It’s just, we should get ready to see this kid to light the lamp plenty in his own right. It’s what he’s always done.