We see young rookies joining the league all the time but don't always know the in-depth story of how they got to the league, or any struggles they had to overcome. Former first overall pick Auston Matthews has had an incredible debut season in the NHL for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He made his mark on the league instantly, scoring four goals in his first game of the season, which caught the eyes of the entire hockey world. Not many people expected the Leafs to improve so greatly coming into the 2016-17 season, but with the performances they got out of their rookies such as Auston Matthews, it has taken the team from the draft lottery to a playoff spot.
Being just 19 years old, there isn't much Auston Matthews has accomplished just yet, but he certainly accomplished a lot in his rookie season and has become one of the most talked about players in the league. That being said, there's probably a lot more that people would like to know about Auston Matthews.
If you are like the many Leafs haters that there are, you won't be happy to hear about how successful the team has been since Matthews joined, or how much better they will be getting in the future. Like it or not, there is no doubt that Matthews is going to become one of the greater players in the NHL sooner or later and he is already starting to make is mark. Here are the 15 things you NEED to know about Auston Matthews.
16 He Comes From A Nontraditional Background
Originally born in San Ramon, South Carolina, Matthews and his family moved to Scottsdale, Arizona when he was just two months old. It was there that he would grow up and learn to play the game of hockey. While his dad is American-born, his mother, Ema, is originally from Mexico and is the reason that Matthews learned to speak Spanish.
There is only one Arizona-born NHLer playing right now and that is Sean Couturier, who was raised in Canada. It's unusual to see a state such as Arizona produce talent like Matthews, considering it's not really a market for hockey. However, Matthews' greatest strides as a hockey player were actually when he left Arizona to join the United States National Team Development Program, followed by playing pro in Switzerland before his draft year, which we will discuss further in the list.
15 He Was Almost Eligible For The 2015 Draft
Everyone knows by now that Auston Matthews is the latest to be selected first overall in the NHL Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2016. That could have changed completely had Matthews been born just two days earlier. According to his father, he was actually a late-born and ended up being born on September 17th, two days after the cutoff date that allows players do be draft eligible.
This means that Matthews could have been in the same draft class as Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, who were the unanimous number one and two heading into that draft. While many still feel like McDavid would have the edge over Matthews, there would surely be a challenge for the second overall spot, and many believe it would have gone to Matthews. There already seems to be a small rivalry brewing between Eichel and Matthews when their teams compete against each other and we can expect that to grow in the coming years. Regardless, both players are exceptional talents that any team would be lucky to have.
14 He's Overcome Physical Setbacks To Get To The NHL
After leaving Arizona to join the United States National Team Development Program, Matthews sustained a severe injury after a knee-on-knee collision with an opponent in his second game. Matthews had broken his femur and missed nearly three months of action before returning to finish the season with 33 points in 24 games.
Although no one wants to see anyone get injured while playing a sport, especially a young and upcoming superstar like Matthews, the South Carolina native was able to turn this into a valuable learning experience. When playing with Zurich, he also sustained another injury to his back, but knew what he was dealing with after what he went through in junior. It would be hard not to get discouraged as a young player having to deal with frustrating injuries, but it seems that Matthews has done well to take it as a valuable lesson to carry with for the rest of his professional career.
13 He Bypassed The CHL To Play In Switzerland
Unlike most current NHL prospects, Auston Matthews chose a different route to get to the NHL. Despite being eligible to play U.S college hockey or in the Canadian Hockey League, Matthews chose to play in the Swiss National League, a professional league in Switzerland.
Matthews considered all his options and seemed to have made the right choice to play professional hockey in Switzerland for several reasons. First off, the competition would be a lot tougher playing against men, which would give Matthews a taste of what NHL competition would be like. He would also have the benefit of being coached by a former NHL coach in Marc Crawford. In his only season with the ZSC Lions, Matthews finished with 24 goals and 46 points in 36 games, as an 18 year old.
His ability to be scoring as much as the NHL's best in his rookie season has shown how beneficial it has been for Matthews to play in a professional league prior to being drafted.
12 His Favourite Meal Is Chicken Tortilla Soup
It doesn't come as a surprise to find out that Auston Matthew's favourite meal would be his mom's chicken tortilla soup. Coming from a half Mexican background, you had to assume he's had his fair share of home cooked, delicious Mexican meals. When Auston moved to Switzerland with his mother to play in the Swiss National League, he would often eat his mom's chicken tortilla soup to overcome homesickness. For his 18th birthday, Ema Matthews surprised Auston and his teammates of the ZSC Lions with her very own chicken tortilla soup for the whole team. What better way to get a team to come together?
11 10. He Was Home Schooled In High School
Matthews' choice to be home schooled is just another piece of his nontraditional road to his NHL career. Back in his high school days, Matthews was being home schooled and was taking an accelerated course so he could become eligible to play college hockey. At the time, his rights were held by the Everett Silvertips of the WHL who had drafted Matthews. At the end of it all, Matthews avoided college and the WHL and played for the United States National Team Development Program before signing with the ZSC Lions.
10 He Broke A Patrick Kane Record As A U18 American
While playing for the USNTDP in 2014-15, Auston Matthews broke Patrick Kane's all-time record, with 55 goals and 117 points in the season, surpassing Kane's 52 goals and 102 points in 2005-06. Second all-time was Phil Kessel, and fourth was Jack Eichel which shows how good you have to be to have this sort of honour. Beating this record caught the eye of many scouts since only the top American players have been at the top of scoring for the U.S development program. This amplified the expectations of the former first overall pick. Matthews has already proven himself capable of being a superstar in the NHL and has the potential to become one of the greatest U.S born players in NHL history.
9 He Started Playing Hockey At Six Years Old
As mentioned previously, Matthews grew up in a sports family and credits one of his uncles, Bill, for getting him into hockey. Matthews used to go with his Uncle Bill and his father to see the Phoenix Coyotes play. He went to his first game at only two years old, and eventually was inspired to play the game. Matthews idolized Daniel Briere and Shane Doan, who both played for the Coyotes, when he was just getting into the sport.
Many hockey players began to skate or play even before the age of six, but Matthews increasingly became more and more passionate about the sport as he kept playing which helped improve his game. He eventually found himself putting his whole heart into it to get him where he is today.
8 He Is Already The Best Player On The Toronto Maple Leafs
Not many people knew what to expect of Auston Matthews coming into the 2016-17 season. The Leafs had just come off one of their worst seasons in franchise history and were coming into this season with a ton of rookies in their starting lineup.
Matthews started his rookie campaign with four goals in his first game in the Leafs' season opener against the Ottawa Senators, the most by a rookie in his debut. He made his mark on the league initially and that translated into a fantastic season, finishing with a team leading 40 goals and 69 points.
Matthews' career couldn't have gotten off to a better start and he certainly exceeded the expectations of many this season. The numbers show that he is the Leafs best player right now in just his first season. The pressure will be on him now to keep improving in the future and remain as the Leafs' top guy for the majority of his career.
7 He's Had A Historic Rookie Season
With his exceptional play in his rookie season, Matthews broke tons of NHL records which has made his rookie campaign historic. The most obvious one was on opening night, where he became the first rookie in the NHL's 100-year history to score four goals in his debut. Matthews also now holds the Leafs' franchise records for most goals (40) and points (69) by a rookie, beating the records set by Wendel Clark and Peter Ihnacak which stood for many years.
We're not done yet. Matthews also became the highest scoring American-born rookie in NHL history this season, and also set a new Leafs rookie record for most shots in a season with 279. He also tied Dave Andreychuk's franchise record with 14 game-opening goals.
Some other remarkable achievements from Matthews in his rookie season are becoming the first player since Alex Ovechkin in 2005-06 to score 40 goals in his rookie season, as well as becoming just the sixth teenager to do so. The list can go on and on, but you understand by now just how talented this kid is.
6 As Good As McDavid?
Connor McDavid has definitely earned the MVP title this season along with the Art Ross by putting up 100 points and leading the Edmonton Oilers to the playoffs. While Matthews has had an outstanding rookie season, McDavid seems to have the slim advantage with his play making abilities and speed.
For Matthews, putting up almost 70 points in a rookie season is a fantastic achievement and it makes you wonder how much better this guy can get. While we can expect McDavid to get better as well, do not be surprised to see Auston Matthews winning a few scoring titles over McDavid in his career. These two are the NHL's "next ones" and will be competing for the top scoring titles for many years with both of them winning their fair share of hardware. Who do you think will finish with a more successful career?
5 He Will Probably Win A Stanley Cup With The Leafs
The Leafs currently hold the longest Cup drought in the NHL, having not won a Stanley Cup in 49 years and counting. The Leafs took a large step this season, making the playoffs just one season after beginning the team's rebuild. A large part of why the Leafs have had such a good season is because of the rookies that they brought in. Guys like Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner all stepped up and had solid seasons. Matthews, Marner and Nylander all finished with over 60 points in their rookie seasons.
This certainly shows a bright future for the Toronto franchise, who have endured a painful Stanley Cup drought for far too long now. With the team's future in the hands of these young talents, you can bet the Leafs will likely end their drought in the near future.
4 He Used To Be Better At Baseball
It's become common for professional athletes to grow up playing more than one sport. As we've seen before, hockey and baseball are commonly paired up for many athletes when growing up. One of the reasons may be because of the focus on hand-eye coordination, which is valuable in both sports. Auston Matthews is just another one of those guys who did both growing up.
Growing up in a sports family, Matthews was exposed to sports almost before he could even walk and talk. He started playing baseball with his father and grandfather - who played when they were growing up as well. While playing hockey at the same time, he decided that hockey would become his main passion and spent more time at the rink, even missing baseball practices. By the age of 13, Matthews was fully committed to playing hockey and it's proven to be the right decision up until now.
2 His Nickname Is "Papi"
Since he was a kid, Auston Matthews has been called by his nickname "Papi," which was given to him by his mom. Surprisingly, Matthews is actually referred to as Papi more than Auston from friends and family. Even when playing hockey as a kid, Auston's teammates would call him by his nickname.
I'm not sure how Leafs fans would feel about calling their star forward "Papi", but there is yet to be a name made up that is universally used by Leafs fans to refer to Auston Matthews. The way Matthews has played for the Leafs this season, their fans would probably be calling him something like "God" instead.
1 He Is Going To Win The Calder
There should no longer be a discussion on whether Matthews or Patrik Laine will be named the league's rookie of the year. While it was a tight race to the end, it seems that Matthews finished the season just a bit stronger than Laine did and it caught most of the league's attention.
In comparison to Matthews' 40 goals and 69 points, Patrik Laine finished with 36 goals and 64 points, which are pretty impressive numbers as well. However, the impact that Matthews has had on the Leafs has been far greater. He's opened the scoring 14 times this season, and is arguably a huge reason why the Leafs clinched a playoff spot. Add that to all the records that he has already broken, and it is pretty much set in stone that this award belongs to Matthews.