Comparing the rookie seasons of Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid

Watch as Auston Matthews takes advantage of some questionable defence by the Tampa Bay Lightning to score his 18th goal of the season.

Because of the size of the Toronto market, the Maple Leafs often dominate NHL news coverage on a national stage and, sometimes, that can rub fans of other teams the wrong way. However, I’m starting to think we’re not giving enough attention to Auston Matthews, who at 19 years old is fifth in the NHL in goals, with a wholly sustainable 13.8 shooting percentage.

A 19-year-old rookie on pace for 42 goals, second among all forwards in shots on net, and second among Leafs forwards at +3.3% relative Corsi in Toronto would, you’d think, result in an overwhelming amount of positive coverage, but for whatever reason it seems reserved.

Considering that the hype train hasn’t been as crazy as I assumed it would be at this point, I’m going to do something a little crazy and compare Matthews to Connor McDavid’s rookie year in terms of offensive impact at even strength.

There are a few caveats to consider before we look at the numbers though, the first being that McDavid was four months younger in his rookie season than Matthews. Over the course of their careers that won’t matter, but as teens in their rookie years it does. Secondly, McDavid’s broken collarbone likely did affect his performance, even if only slightly. And lastly, the Oilers didn’t seem interested in sheltering McDavid very much in his rookie year, whereas Mike Babcock has been fairly open about keeping Matthews away from top competition as best he can, that is until recently.

With those things in mind, here’s how the two rookies compare:


If you’re a little shocked by this, you’re probably significantly underestimating Matthews. McDavid is obviously the better playmaker, and likely has the better puck skills as well, which combined with his speed makes him the superior transition player. However, Matthews is no slouch in transition, and he makes up for any playmaking deficiencies by being a ridiculously talented goal scorer.

Matthews also happens to be an excellent forechecker, which I think is a key to his game that most don’t focus on; he’s an extremely effective physical presence. That doesn’t mean he’s lighting up guys with open ice hits, but he’s using his body to shield the puck and both win it and protect it to keep plays alive.

What’s perhaps most impressive about Matthews is that he’s creating more scoring chances for his team than McDavid did last year, which is frankly an absurd bar to leap.

None of this is to say Matthews will be better than McDavid, which in all likelihood won’t happen, and they’re very different players stylistically, but Matthews is playing like a bonafide franchise player at 19, and there’s still a healthy air of skepticism around him for whatever reason.

It’s possible an increased level of competition could wear him down a little bit, but all the underlying numbers point to Matthews’ current production being earned and not lucky.

Matthews alone creates a seismic shift in the future of the Maple Leafs. There aren’t many teams who can boast a prime age superstar centre for at least six more seasons after this one.

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