Auston Matthews took the hockey world by storm with four goals in his first NHL game Wednesday, quickly starting speculation on how good this kid could actually be.
Twitter was abuzz, happy to point to a 328-goal pace while tossing around Wayne Gretzky’s records after the newest face of The 416 finished his magical debut.
Let’s not forget, the kid is only 19 and it’s safe to assume he won’t be scoring four goals every night. That’s not to say the other 81 games will be a disaster, but it does mean that growing pains are on their way.
Many of the best players who started their careers as a teenager had good – but not their best – seasons in Year 1. With that in mind, we decided to take a look at the basic stats of some of the top centres that have made their debut in recent years, to help explain what (more reasonable) expectations fans should have for Matthews.
If he can follow the trends set by these players, Toronto Maple Leafs fans should be more than happy.
|Player||GP||G||A||Pts||Pts per game||ATOI||+/-||Faceoff %|
Scoring comes naturally
Matthews can clearly score, but his consistency is still up in the air. A lot of the players listed above have gone on to be some of the top scorers in the league, but that didn’t happen while they were rookies.
A successful rookie season for Matthews would be 50-60 points with 20-25 goals. Sidney Crosby blew things wide open as a rookie and who knows what Connor McDavid could have done if healthy last year, but most top centres start their careers with a little more than half a point per game and Matthews should have no problem matching that.
Putting up points doesn’t guarantee a plus-minus worth writing home about though. This stat has a lot of outside factors, but it does remind us that these guys start their careers playing on losing teams that give up a lot of goals. In fact, Nathan MacKinnon is the only player on this list to play in the playoffs as a rookie.
It’s too early to say if Toronto falls into that category, but not getting the win on Wednesday despite Matthews’ impressive performance could be a sign of things to come.
Getting thrown into the fire
For the most part, coaches don’t wait to give their new players every chance to succeed and Matthews appears to be no different. On Wednesday, he led all Leafs forwards with 17:37 of ice time in an overtime loss, and fans can expect anywhere from 15-20 minutes a night based on the trends above.
It will be interesting to see how Matthews handles the longer season.
Last year with the Zurich Lions in Switzerland, he only played in 36 games, plus another 21 between the world juniors, Swiss playoffs and the world championships.
Most of the other stars on this list played in the CHL or NCAA, where the regular season and a long playoff run meant they were playing much closer to an NHL schedule before jumping into the league. Mike Babcock may consider limiting Matthews’ ice time in the final weeks of the season to avoid burning him out, which could affect his other statistics.
Leading the way to the playoffs
This is less of a statistical trend and more of an observational one, but teenage star centres have a remarkable track record of turning their teams around. Almost all of the teams represented above have made the playoffs after adding a new top line centre.
Pittsburgh, Chicago and Los Angeles all have multiple cups in the years after Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Anze Kopitar joined their teams. Most are captains or alternates and all were good enough to be chosen to play in the World Cup of Hockey.
These are opportunities and responsibilities most players don’t get, but Matthews will if he keeps growing as a player.
Hockey is a team sport and Matthews has plenty of other talented players growing with him that will all contribute to turning the Leafs around. But if he is going to be the face of his new team, putting together a solid rookie season like the players listed above will be a good start.