What we learned about Auston Matthews at the World Championships

Leafs fans are certainly no stranger to the hype surrounding Auston Matthews.  We know he’s an amazing, big, skilled forward with a great shot and fantastic hockey sense.  I’m sure many of you have seen the fantastic work done by Reddit user ImHuge in creating Auston Matthews’ extended highlights for each of the 10 games Matthews played for Team USA at the World Hockey Championships this year.  Though the young American team placed fourth, Matthews had a great showing at the tournament, finishing fourth in tournament goal scoring (6 goals and 3 assists in 10GP) and tied for the team lead in points.  

ImHuge’s extended highlights were unique in the sense that they focused on not only Matthew’s obvious point-producing skill, but his offensive and defensive contributions and playmaking abilities.  Taking a careful look at these highlights will help give Leafs fans deeper insight into the player their team will (presumably) be drafting in June- and this is exactly what I intend to do.  

WHAT WE LEARNED

1.  He’s fantastic at shifting his position— this is attested to his hockey smarts and true knowledge of the game. Matthews is able to judge when it’s appropriate to move out of position to make a play, and these apparent judgments are rarely wrong.  

Example 1: USA vs. Belarus, May 7th.  

Take a look at this play that I like to refer to as a switch-up:  

Pay specific attention to Matthews (#34) and his movements.  He begins in the left faceoff circle, shifts to the point, carries the puck to the middle of the ice and chases his rebound to below the right faceoff circle. All of these movements are acceptable, even beneficial, to a player of his caliber who is able to play in all zones of the ice.  He knows exactly where to position himself to maximize scoring chances, and does not put his team in a vulnerable position in doing so.  

Example 2:  USA vs. Canada, May 6th. 

Watch as Matthews positions himself behind the puck carrier:

In this clip, you can distinguish the moment in which Matthews decided to duck in behind the USA forward- one can tell by the slight pivot motion in his skate.  

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 5.36.33 PM

Matthews maximizes the space available to him on the wing as he’s temporarily left uncharted by the Canada defenceman, and because of this, he creates a scoring chance.  

2.  He can anchor the power play.  From what I’ve seen of Matthews, the Leafs could likely just give him the left side of the ice to command the power play going into the next few seasons.  He did so at times during the tournament for the Americans this year and was very proficient in his task.  Commanding the entire left section of the offensive zone, Matthews shifted up and down the boards, making plays and pushing off defenders on the man advantage.  

Example 1:  USA vs. Finland, May 9th.  

Watch as Matthews commands the left half of the ice during a shift on the power play:

Throughout this play, Matthews shifts from the point to the middle of the ice to just below the circle.  His adjustment skills are phenomenal; he makes several smart passes and is able to get into a position in which he can receive passes from his teammates.  Not only that, but he helps orchestrate a scoring chance.  

3.  He has top-notch puck carrying skills.  In several instances in the tournament, Matthews took it upon himself to dance around opposing defenders, breaking their ankles (metaphorically) and individually putting on offensive pressure.  

Example 1:  USA vs. Canada, May 6th. 

Watch as Matthews shrugs off two Canadian players in this gorgeous zone entry:

“Heart eyes” is all I can say.  He jumps on an opportunity to pick up the puck, moves across the defensive zone, neutral zone, and offensive zone, dodges two Canadian players, takes a shot and gets his own rebound- something he seemed to do a lot of in this tournament.  

Example 2: USA vs. Belarus, May 7th.  

“Heart eyes” part two coming up in this great individual effort by Matthews:

He dances past several Belarusian defenders and again uses that pivot to maximize space for himself as he drives into the offensive zone.  Not only that, but he uses his excellent puck protection skills behind the net and maintains possession through hard pressure from the Belarus defenceman.   

Example 3: USA vs. France, May 12th.  

This is just unfair.  Watch as Auston Matthews does Auston Matthews things, again:

Matthews retrieves the puck, gets his own rebound and dances around the ice for FIFTEEN seconds before passing the puck to an open teammate who scores off of a shot from the point.  The French defender does his best to keep up, but there really is not much he can do to take the puck away from Matthews.  

4.  He is very prevalent on the puck.  Matthews is strong on the puck and certainly does not shy away from physical play.  You can tell by his defensive play that he really does not give up easily.  He is able to pressure forwards when backchecking or defending and utilizes his long reach and quick hands to do so. 

Example 1: USA vs. Russia, May 22nd.  

Watch as Matthews maintains defensive pressure on the Russian forward: 

Matthews stays with the Russian defender as he tries to get away from Matthews’ persistent defending. The reach of Matthews, as well as the stick of USA forward Jordan Schroeder, helps him pick up the open puck and begin the transition into the offensive zone.  

FINAL SCOUTING REPORT

Something I’ve noticed is Matthews’ ability to excel individually while still fitting into a system and making significant contributions to his team.  He utilizes his skill and ability to maximize his play within the team’s system, going above and beyond what other players are capable of contributing.  This is precisely why I believe Auston Matthews is the clear-cut first overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.  Not only will Matthews be a great fit in Toronto, but his skill set that allows him to excel under a system in which he has the ability to play his own game is unmatched by any other player in the draft this year.  

Here are the links to all of /u/ImHuge’s extended highlight packs.

#34 Auston Matthews Extended Highlights vs. Canada | May 6th 2016

#34 Auston Matthews Extended Highlights vs. Belarus | May 7th 2016

#34 Auston Matthews Extended Highlights vs. Finland | May 9th 2016

#34 Auston Matthews Extended Highlights vs. France | May 12th 2016

#34 Auston Matthews Extended Highlights vs. Hungary | May 13th 2016

#34 Auston Matthews Extended Highlights vs. Germany | May 15th 2016

#34 Auston Matthews Extended Highlights vs. Slovakia | May 17th 2016

#34 Auston Matthews Extended Highlights vs. Czeck Republic | May 19th 2016

#34 Auston Matthews Extended Highlights vs. Canada | May 21st 2016

#34 Auston Matthews Extended Highlights vs. Russia | May 22nd 2016

  • magesticRAGE

    There are times that I wonder if I will wake up from the dream land in which the leafs won the first overall pick. It still hasn’t happened so I continue to look forward to seeing Matthews next year. I agree that he is as much of a no doubter as you can find for the number 1 pick at a draft.

        • FlareKnight

          Well at least you tried, credit to you.

          Of course all those statements also apply when you compare Laine’s tournament to….Connor McDavid. Pretty sure Edmonton isn’t trading McDavid for the second overall pick though.

          Point production basically means nothing when comparing the quality of linemates and situation. Better shot is actually a lie. He has a better slapshot, maybe. All Laine’s shots are definitely not superior to Matthews though. Younger is again basically meaningless. And a couple inches in height is again basically meaningless.

          So ignoring the nonsense from people who are crazy, back to enjoying the fact that we’re going to be able to draft Matthews by the end of the month. Good times ahead.

        • “Laine has better point production”

          In a 7 game tourney by a few points, sure. Matthews also significantly outproduced him in season play this year despite playing in a stronger league and basically doubled him based on league equivalency.

  • FlareKnight

    Here’s an article by an actual sports journalist about this:

    http://www.nationalpost.com/m/wp/blog.html?b=news.nationalpost.com/sports/nhl/he-takes-over-games-patrik-laine-not-auston-matthews-might-be-nhl-drafts-true-no-1

    Note that this was written before Laine killed it at the Worlds.

    It is only the very dubious ‘equivalency’ criteria that somehow has it that the Swiss League is better than Finnish that Matthews is a better points per game player than Laine. In fact, in the last few months Laine has outperformed an out produced Matthews.

    If you look at the tournaments in which both competed Laine comes out with better results. He also won his league while Matthews’ team fell out in the first round.

    Age does matter at this level and so does the shot – it’s pretty hard to teach ‘shot’ while being defensively responsible, on the other hand, seems to me a lot easier to learn in a good system since, in most cases, it is essentially a matter of being willing to do it for skilled players.

    I’m actually neither in favour of drafting Laine over Matthews nor arguing for argument’s sake here. I’m thinking aloud a a fan and not a journalist or a wanna-be journalist, scout or a manager or a coach of a hockey team.

    I’m just disappointed that the writers on most Leafs’ fan sites including this one have declared a taboo on discussing the possibility of there not being a clear-cut number one.

    Even if you all agree that Matthews is no. 1 make a good case for it that doesn’t rely on silencing/shaming of the opposition or wishing the facts away.

    I’m really getting tired if the same-think that is going on in the Leafs blogosphere. Why not have an actual debate about this? Even if there is a 1 % chance that Laine might be better shouldn’t Leafs’ fans explore it? Our team is about to make a decision of huge consequence. It is not a good time to shut our eyes and ears.