Auston Matthews’ historic season shows that anything is possible

Photo credit:Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Shane Seney
1 month ago
Auston Matthews cemented himself as the NHL’s premier goal-scorer. His 69 goals during the regular season was 12 clear of Sam Reinhart of the Florida Panthers, and while Matthews can certainly find the back of the net on a regular basis, there’s so many more elements to his game. If the 2023-24 season showcased anything, it was the fact that anything is possible when it comes to Matthews’ game.
The Maple Leafs superstar may be the most complete player in the league. He’s become one of the league’s best defensive forwards, and was voted a finalist for the 2023-24 Selke award. When Matthews isn’t busy beating goalies, he’s playing a strong 200-foot game which continues to become more physical and engaged on both sides of the puck.
The Arizona native finished the 2023-24 campaign with 89 hits and 93 blocked shots, which were both career highs. A big part of his evolution this season was the fact Matthews was called upon to be a penalty killer. He’d often jump the boards as the second or third penalty-kill unit and averaged a career-high 42 seconds a game while shorthanded. His previous high of nine seconds per game was back in 2020-21, so it will be interesting to see if this trend continues heading into next season with Craig Berube behind the bench.

A Deeper Dive Into 69 Goals

Kids, if you don’t shoot the puck, you have no chance at scoring 69 goals. Matthews riled off 369 shots throughout this past season, which was by far a career high. What’s even more impressive is the fact his shooting percentage was 18.7%. Here’s the top five shot-takers in the league and their respected shooting percentages:
Nathan MacKinnon404 shots12.6 shooting %
David Pastrnak382 shots12.3 shooting %
Auston Matthews369 shots18.7 shooting %
Brady Tkachuk357 shots10.4 shooting %
Filip Forsberg347 shots13.8 shooting %
Not only is Matthews one of the game best bulk shooters, he’s by far the best when it comes to accuracy and production. What’s even more impressive about his 69 regular season goals were the fact 51 of them came at even strength. For comparison sake, Sam Reinhart of the Florida Panthers finished second in the league with 57 goals, meanwhile only 25 goals were at even strength. Zach Hyman of the Oilers was third with 54 goals, again only 39 were at even strength. Matthews is the best goal-scorer in the league and there’s absolutely no debating the matter.
His shot continues to be the weapon of choice. Of his 69 goals, 25 of them came from either mid-or-long range, outside of the high-danger zone. Matthews is capable of beating any goalie from almost anywhere in the offensive zone and it couldn’t have been more obvious this past season:
A big reason why Matthews is able to find the back of the net is the fact his line spends a lot of time in the offensive zone. According to NHL Edge, Matthews spent 43.6% of his even-strength ice-time in the offensive zone, which ranks him among the top 89th percentile in the league. The best defence is an overpowering offence and while there’s certainly many more elements to his game, look for Matthews to continue dominating offensively for the foreseeable future.

Matthews’ Defensive Game Developing Own Dominance

Perhaps the most underrated part of Matthews’ game over the course of his first seven seasons was how impactful he was becoming on the defensive side of the puck. In season eight, he finally got his flowers.
Matthews finished 3rd in Selke voting for the league’s best defensive forward, and while he’s going to be in tough to take over Aleksander Barkov from the top spot the next few years, Matthews 200-foot game is finally receiving the credit it deserves.
The Leafs forward ranked 2nd in the NHL in takeaways, ranked 3rd in blocked-shots by forwards. As mentioned previously, took his game to another level physically, which increased even more in the playoffs as he laid 26 hits during his five appearances in the first-round. When the intensity picks up, Matthews is up for the challenge and isn’t one to shy away from contact. The Maple Leafs are lucky to have #34 and considering how much he impacts the game in all three zones, it feels like it’s only a matter of time before he adds some more hardware to his mantle.

Where Does Matthews Go From Here?

The Leafs have locked Matthews in through the 2027-28 season and while he’s certainly a leader among the group, with John Tavares potentially leaving after next season, look for Matthews to be in the running for the next captain. Even if Tavares stays, there’s a chance management decides to shift the leadership responsibilities into Matthews’ hands.
Faceoffs are an aspect of his game the Leafs star centre could work on. In order to become even more dominant and impactful, he needs to take a step forward as a faceoff specialist and give his team the puck to start his shifts as much as possible. Matthews finished last season winning 53.6% of his draws, meanwhile if you compare that to Barkov, who won the Selke, the Panthers centre finished at 57.2%. Faceoffs will likely be a part of Matthews’ offseason training regiment this summer.
Ideally, Matthews finds a way to become a better playmaker, but honestly, if it’s going to take away from his goal-scoring, what’s the point? He finished last season with 38 assists, which ranked him fifth on the Maple Leafs. It will be intriguing to see who Berube plays Matthews with next season and if there ends up being a more balanced approach among all three forwards on his line.
Matthews heads into next season just 52 goals behind Mats Sundin for franchise lead. There’s a very good chance he passes Sundin late into the 2024-25 season, just nine years into his Maple Leafs’ tenure. Meanwhile, as far as points go, Matthews is likely going to pass both George Armstrong and Borje Salming at some point next season and creep into the the top-4 in Leafs history.
The Maple Leafs have the best goal-scorer in the league. He also happens to be becoming one of the NHL’s most dominant two-way players. Matthews heads into next season in the prime of his career and with his game taking off into new heights. Regardless of all the individual accolades, Matthews would trade it all for a chance to hoist the Stanley Cup. As long as he’s leading the Maple Leafs, anything is possible.

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