It’s almost 2022 – a crucial year for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Although there is a well-founded worry from Leafs fans that their core of talent will underachieve again, there’s a very good reason to think things may be different. And that reason’s name is Auston Matthews.
Not to put all the pressure on him, but Matthews needs to be great for Toronto to make it out of the first round of the playoffs for the first time since the 2003-04 campaign. He is the type of star player that teams almost always need to win a Stanley Cup championship. The Tampa Bay Lightning have Steven Stamkos. The Washington Capitals have Alex Ovechkin. The Pittsburgh Penguins have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The Chicago Blackhawks have Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
In Matthews, the Leafs have that generational talent to build around. And this season, Matthews has shown his game is only getting better: prior to the COVID-19 virus outbreak that caused the league to pause the regular season, Matthews had 20 goals – third-best in the league, behind Ovechkin (22 goals in 32 games) and Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl (24 goals in 32 games) – and 33 points in 27 games. That makes him Toronto’s top point-getter thus far, and puts him on a pace to generate 55 goals, which would break Rick Vaive’s record for most goals-scored in a single season by a Leaf (54 goals). It’s definitely achievable for him. He scored 47 goals in 70 games in the 2018-19 season. Last year, he posted 41 goals in only 52 games. And in the five games before the NHL paused the season, he had six goals and nine points. The Leafs have never had a talent like his in the past half-century.
Matthews is so good, Toronto fans have come to expect big things from him, and he has always delivered. But sometimes we forget he’s only 24 years old. In almost six full NHL seasons, he’s already played 361 regular-season games, and amassed 219 goals and 384 points. And this season, there’s a clear sense that Matthews has elevated his game. He looks as confident as he’s ever looked in a Leafs uniform. His pinpoint accuracy with the puck is more deadly than ever. And he’s tearing up the opposition’s defense while averaging 20:31 of ice time per game – more than a full minute less than he averaged last season (21:33).
Certainly, Matthews will need help from his teammates for Toronto to go on a deep postseason run. But he knows full well he’s got to flourish when games matter most for the Leafs to grind their way past the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning and the on-the-rise Florida Panthers and make it out of the Atlantic Division. It is not going to be easy. If the referees put their whistles away as they usually do in the playoffs, Matthews is going to have to deal with being mauled and hacked away at, and figure out a way to win.
Matthews’ career playoff totals of 13 goals and 24 points in 32 games aren’t as impressive as his regular-season stats, but the arcs of great players almost always include growth in the post-season. That is the final frontier for him now.
We’re fortunate in Toronto to see Matthews every night and truly appreciate what a singular talent he is. And in 2022, he’s got an excellent opportunity to make Leafs’ fans delirious with joy. All he has to do is be himself. That’s more than enough for Leafs’ management, and it should be more than enough to satisfy Buds fans.
Toronto has had some phenomenal athletes represent the city over the years, but not since the 1960s have we had a Leafs player whose full blossom has put him at the very top of the NHL food chain. Matthews is on the verge of great(er) things, and nobody has figured out a way to stop him yet. The sky is the limit for him. His best years are still to come.
So, Happy New Year, Auston. The Leafs need you to lead the way for them. And you can do it.
Ep 35: Avalanche Win Stanley Cup; Hockey Hall of Fame; NHL Offseason Predictionsby Full Press Coverage on June 29, 2022 at 2:06 pm
Jim and Chris react to the Avalanche winning the Stanley Cup, the 2022 […]
Ep 34: NHL Coaching Retreads; Stanley Cup Final Talkby Full Press Coverage on June 22, 2022 at 3:30 pm
Mike, Jim, and Chris discuss the never-ending NHL coaching retreads and […]
NHL Offseason: Matthew Tkachuk Traded To Florida, Patrik Laine Staying in Columbus and Moreby Full Press Coverage on July 24, 2022 at 6:15 pm
Jim is back once again joined by C.C. Hawkley of Full Press Hockey to […]
Ep 76: They're Back! David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron Return To The Bruinsby Full Press Coverage on August 11, 2022 at 8:51 pm
Ian and Chris discuss and react to the re-signing of captain Patrice […]
Ep 75: Bergeron Undecided? David Krejci and NHL Free Agency Primerby Full Press Coverage on July 13, 2022 at 3:57 pm
Ian and Chris discuss the latest on Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and […]
8/19 - Deshaun Watson Suspension; Concern About Tom Brady's Absenceby Full Press Coverage on August 19, 2022 at 1:46 pm
Ian and John discuss the Deshaun Watson suspension and whether or not […]
Aaron Rodgers Addresses Early Camp Struggles for WRsby Full Press Coverage on August 18, 2022 at 5:12 pm
Ian and John discuss some bumps in the road at Packers camp as Aaron […]
8/17 - Packers Camp Struggles, Top 10 QB/Pass Catching Combos, Malcolm Go... To Injured Reserveby Full Press Coverage on August 17, 2022 at 5:04 pm
Ian and John discuss Aaron Rodgers comments about the young wide receiver […]
8/15 - Zach Wilson, Deshaun Watson, NFL Top 100 Listby Full Press Coverage on August 15, 2022 at 1:15 pm
Ian and John discuss the Zach Wilson injury scare, Deshaun Watson's debut […]