TLN Top 20 Prospects 2016: #1 Auston Matthews

TLN1

And it was written…

For the hockey gods so loved Leafs Nation, that they gave to them numbers 6, 8, 5, and 13, that whosoever believeth shall not miss the playoffs, but have many sick toe-drags, beauty snips, and a Corsi-For percentage of more than fifty” – Auston 4:16.

Praise be.

The Votes

Jeff Ryan H. Shawn Ryan F. Adam Dom Jess Katy Readers
1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

This is Matthews’ first year in the Leafs organization.

Player Bio

Position Hometown Height Weight Hand 2015 Team Acquired
C Scottsdale, AZ 6’2 216 Left Zurich Lions 2016 Draft (1-1st)

The Stats

 SEASON AGE TEAM LEAGUE GP G A TP NHLe PIM +/-
 2012-13 15  Arizona Bobcats 16U  Midget 48 55 45 100 N/A 16 N/A
 2013-14 16  USNTDP Juniors  USHL 20 10 10 20 22.14 4 -5
  16  U.S. National U17 Team  USDP 24 12 21 33 N/A 10 N/A
  16  U.S. National U18 Team  USDP 20 12 5 17 N/A 8 N/A
  16  USA U17  WHC-17 6 4 4 8 N/A 8 N/A
  16  USA U18  WJC-18 7 5 2 7 N/A 4 7
 2014-15 17  USNTDP Juniors  USHL 24 20 28 48 44.28 10 20
  17  U.S. National U18 Team   USDP 60 55 61 116 N/A 30 N/A
  17  USA U18   WJC-18 7 8 7 15 N/A 0 11
  17  USA U20  WJC-20 5 1 2 3 27.06 4 0
 2015-16 18  ZSC Lions  NLA 36 24 22 46 41.91 6 16
  18  USA U20   WJC-20 7 7 4 11 70.87 2 6
  18  USA  WC 10 6 3 9 N/A 2 0

When the Leafs first won the draft lottery in April, I took a gander at how incredible Matthews has been as a goal-scorer. I wouldn’t say it’s an underrated part of his game, but like I mentioned back then, we’ve been crying out for a pure distributing center on this team for so long, it’s easy to overlook that this kid can fill the net on his own as well. If you look back as far as his days in Midget, he doesn’t fall below 0.5 goals-per-game at any level, including most recently in the Swiss League. 

Projection Stats

pGPSn pGPSs pGPS% pGPS PPG pGPS PP82 pGPSr
2 (18/18) 1 (18/18) 50.0% (18/18) 0.91 (1/18) 74.5 (8/18) 45.46 (3/18)

  • pGPSn: The number of matches between the subject and the player-seasons (one season by a single player, i.e, John Tavares 2008 OHL) in the historical sample.
  • pGPSs: The number of statistical matches that became NHL regulars. This is determined by playing 200 NHL games.
  • pGPS%: Simply s divided by n, this is the percentage of statistical matches that successfully became NHL players.
  • pGPS PPG: The NHL points per game of successful matches.
  • pGPS P82: The same as pGPS PPG, but stretched over 82 games.
  • pGPSr: A bit of a hybrid number, this pGPS Rating combines the percentage and points per game to produce a number that includes both likelihood of success and potential upside.

Based on the success of his historical comparables, Matthews is projected to become a first line forward. 

It should be noted that in the specific case of Matthews, his combination of pedigree and unusual league of choice for his draft year allows for an extremely small sample to compare to. In this case, his pGPSs is Rick Nash, who played with HC Davos during the 2004/05 season as a result of the NHL lockout. Nash was already 20 years old and had two NHL seasons (154 GP) under his belt, the latter of which saw him win the Rocket Richard Trophy.

To learn more about the Prospect Graduation Probabilities System, check out this post.

The Eye Test

Leading up to the draft, one of my favourite things I read about Matthews was this Future Considerations excerpt from their pre-draft guide:

“There’s not a lot to pick on, but one knock on Matthews is that at times he can try to do too much and get drawn out of position; a by-product of playing with teammates who cannot match his instincts.”

Essentially, one of his only weaknesses is that players around him haven’t been able to get on level with his passing creativity. What a time to be alive. I think it’s safe to assume when Matthews lines up alongside guys like Nylander and van Riemsdyk, among others at the NHL level, he’ll have players ready to compliment his game. 

As for the physical tools, we know Matthews already has a pro build at 6’2″ and over 200 pounds, which is partly why he’s gotten some Kopitar comparisons to this point. He uses that frame to be an absolute killer on the boards, someone who’d be difficult to budge even if his stickhandling wasn’t world class. Unfortunately for defenders, it is, and he owes it to the work he’s put in through some unusual practice. 

.”..to fully understand how Auston Matthews got to where he is, you need to know that when he was a boy, he spent thousands of hours on tiny rinks – not much larger than an end zone – fighting off two or three other kids, stickhandling in and around masses of skates and sticks to score a half-dozen goals every game.”

The above is from James Mirtle’s profile of Matthews leading up the draft, which is must-read if you haven’t yet. In these IIHF highlights below, you’ll see that type of handle on display. 

As Seen on TV

The Buildup

Like a lot of top picks, Matthews has been on the draft radar for years, and it’s worth reminding everyone again that had he been born two days earlier, he’d have been eligible for the 2015 draft, and now entering his sophomore season in the NHL. The only real argument on that front is whether he’d have been drafted before or after Jack Eichel last summer. 

Because beating up on junior aged players last season was going to be a waste of development time, Matthews went to Switzerland last season and played pro. He scored an absurd 24 goals in 36 games, building on his resume that already included a 55-goal record USNTDP season. He’s also had above-point-per-game output at every level, even small samples of tournament play. 

Next Season

The Leafs will have Matthews step into the lineup right away and be a key contributor. Management and the coaching staff will be preaching patience at the beginning of the season, and given he’ll only turn 19 later this month, that’s totally reasonable. But even as an 19-year-old, it’ll just be a matter of weeks before Matthews establishes himself as one of Toronto’s best players, and then works his way into that top center slot. 

As for projections models for this upcoming year, Matthews falls anywhere between 42-60 points. If he gets his share of powerplay opportunities, which he should on a relatively weak Leafs club, I think it’s probably reasonable to see him clipping along at a similar pace to Eichel’s last season, when he finished up with 56 total. Another player to keep in mind would be John Tavares, who put up 54 in his rookie campaign. It’s a tall order, but certainly not unrealistic if Matthews plays a full schedule. 

As sort of an added bonus for fans, Matthews has already been named to the U23 World Cup roster, ahead of both Boone Jenner and Alex Galchenyuk, established NHL players coming off 30-goal seasons. It’s a testament to how others view his readiness to join the league. 

Team NA’s Peter Chiarelli explained his somewhat surprising selection of the youngster after his performance at the World Championships this spring:

[Matthews] was gaining confidence every game. You can be a bystander and make a play once a period. He was making plays all the time…We can’t keep this guy off the team…We had to get him on the top list, the learning curve notwithstanding

Closing Thoughts

It might seem like we’re over-hyping Matthews, but he isn’t just a top ten or top five pick, he’s a first overall selection. That’s so rare for the Leafs and their fans – the first time in my life – that it isn’t easy to step away from the usual cautious optimism we put on prospects. All signs point to this guy being a franchise center and a star in the league, so feel free get expectations in line with that. 

The Rankings So Far

  • MigBoron

    what clips I have seen of Mathews has given me one concern. That is when he skates with his body bent forward, this lowers his head too much and leaves him open to get his bell rung

    • MigBoron

      I think he’s just one of those head down but eyes up kind of guys, kind of bates other players into thinking you’re not paying attention. I’m sure he is fully aware of where everyone is on the ice.

  • MigBoron

    > beauty snips

    > snips

    😀

    So excited for this upcoming season!!

    Once again, thanks for adding in the Player Bio and Stats tables, things I had asked for the past couple years on here. pGPS also a great addition.

    (PS: “compliment” = praise // “complement” = work/fit together well)

  • magesticRAGE

    He is going to be a superstar. The comparison to Kopitar I get, but he skates too well. The Toews comparison doesn’t stick either as Matthews more of an attacking scorer, and stickhandles better. He’s probably almost as smart Bergeron, but has better raw tools to support him. The way he moves and anticipates, Marner couldn’t even shake him, and there’s a 50lbs disparity there. It is kinda unreal that the Leafs are in this position. I’d keep pinching myself, but if hasn’t hurt less.

  • nobonusfornonus

    and verily the prodigal goon returned to his father’s vineyard and the father welcomed his goony son and his fugly beard. but auston 4:16 was master of his own domain so in a fit of jealousy goon son elbowed young Auston in a blind rage to impress his father and ended forever the ability of young Auston to ever again pick grapes and make wine. when last seen he was shelling peanuts with the CTE patients at the nfl home for ex players.

  • MigBoron

    Hey question, according to your projection stats Matthews projects to be a first line forward, with Marner and Nylander projecting as “top 6 forwards.” Just wondering if you have more info on how the tiered system works so we can see exactly why each of the 3 fell into their respective projection. Thanks.