Tha Sports Junkies 101

How good will Auston Matthews be?

Jumpy News via


Any time a player is taken with the first overall pick, there is a large amount of hype surrounding the player. Fans will say he is the best thing to come out of the draft since Sidney Crosby did in 2005. And that player usually doesn’t reach that hype for numerous reasons. Can Auston Matthews be the first one to change that?

When you take a look back at all the first overall picks since Crosby, there are a lot of star caliber players. Yet none of them seem to get to Crosby’s level of excellence. In his first NHL season, Crosby scored 39 goals and added 63 assists, giving him 102 points, which is the 5th best by any rookie in NHL history. And while he lost the Calder Trophy for best rookie to Alex Ovechkin, its what he did the years after that set himself apart from most first picks.

Crosby took his 102 point rookie season and turned it into a 120 point sophomore campaign, becoming the youngest player in NHL history to win the scoring title. Crosby would top the 100 point mark two times in his next three seasons, and most likely would have in that third season if not for injuries keeping him out. Despite only scoring 100 points just once more in his career, mostly due to injuries, Crosby is one of the top players in the NHL

As you just look at the forwards picked with the first pick (which excludes Erik Johnson and Aaron Ekblad, who were the only defenseman taken with the first pick since Crosby), there are many names that stand out as some of the top in the league, but have any of them actually lived up to the hype of a first round pick?

Patrick Kane was picked first overall in 2007 by the Chicago Blackhawks, kicking off what would become what many would say is one of the best stretches of success in the salary cap era. Kane won the Calder Trophy in the 07-08 season, scoring 21 goals and 51 points. The expectation for most players, especially a top rookie, is to see improvement on their rookie season. But with Kane, outside of his 2009-10 season which saw him score 30 goals, and last season, 2015-16, his best by far, in which he scored 46 goals and topped 100 points, he hasn’t put up elite offensive numbers consistently to warrant that number 1 selection, but seems to be on his way to it.

The following season, Steven Stamkos was drafted first overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning. In his first season, Stamkos scored 23 goals and put up 46 points. He scored 51, 45, and 60 goals in the next 3 seasons, respectively. In the 2013 season, which was shortened due to the lockout, he scored 29 goals, and he scored 25 in the 2013-14 season which was shortened by injuries. Stamkos has been one of the NHL’s most elite players and has become a mainstay atop the NHL’s goal scoring leaders.

John Tavares is next on the list, taken first overall by the New York Islanders in 2009. Tavares put up similar numbers to Kane and Stamkos in his freshman year, scoring 24 goals and 54 points. His path is more similar to Kane’s than Stamkos’. Tavares only scored 30 or more goals once in his first 5 seasons in the league. Tavares, once again similar to Kane, has broken out offensively, scoring 30 or more goals in the last two seasons.

The next three players, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Nail Yakupov, were all drafted by the Edmonton Oilers. Hall has never scored 30 goals in his career, and was traded to the New Jersey Devils this past offseason. Nugent-Hopkins put up 52 points in his rookie year, giving Oilers fans hope that they found a budding star. Unfortunately for Nugent-Hopkins and the Oilers, he struggled to find any offensive production in his young career, only scoring over 20 goals once. With the third year in a row with the number 1 pick, the Oilers selected Yakupov. Yakupov had 17 goals in his rookie season, but never scored more than 15 goals in his next three seasons, resulting in him being traded to the St. Louis Blues this offseason.

Nathan MacKinnon, who was selected first overall by the Colorado Avalanche in 2013, has unfortunately suffered the same fate as many of the players we have covered so far. After a 24 goal, 63 point season, MacKinnon only scored 14 goals in his second season. But where MacKinnon rises above the past three first round picks is his improvement over his sophomore season, bringing his goal total up to 21 and points up to 52. Only going into his 4th season, now under a new head coach, the jury is still out on whether he flops or busts.

While I am sure at one time or another all the previous mentioned players were called “the best thing to come out of the draft since Sidney Crosby” or “the next Crosby”,  the kid drafted by the Oilers in the 2015 draft seems to be the closest to reaching it so far. Connor McDavid finished his rookie season with 16 goals and 48 points. When looking at those numbers nothing stands out, until you see he only played in 45 games due to injury, which puts him at over a point per game production. If you stretch those numbers out over an 82 game season, McDavid was on pace for 87 points, the most by a rookie since Crosby scored 102, which would have put him 3rd in the NHL in points, behind Kane and Jamie Benn.

As a whole, there have been 8 forwards selected between Crosby and Matthews, and about half of them (Kane, Stamkos, Taveres, and McDavid) have become star forwards in the NHL. But McDavid (who if healthy was projected to put those numbers up) may be the only one who has reached that Crosby level they were all compared to when they were drafted. So that brings us back to our original question, how good can Auston Matthews be? Can he reach that Crosby level that all first overall picks are said to be able to?

Despite being one of the most hyped prospects in recent years, Matthews shocked the hockey world in his NHL debut, scoring 4 goals in the first two periods of the Maple Leafs loss to the Ottawa Senators. There is so much to like about Matthews’ game. He has a quick release on his shot and outstanding vision, which allows him to set up his teammates with perfect passes or just fire a wrist shot high past goaltenders.  But what stands out the most, at least in my eyes, is the way he carries the puck. He has amazing hands, as well as the ability to take long and powerful strides into the offensive zone, but then can slide past a defender effortlessly.

The 6’3, 215 lbs American born center had a great World Cup, playing on a line with McDavid after impressing his coaches. While Team North America ended up going no where, McDavid and Matthews both played well, and seemed to have very good chemistry together. Expect to hear their names put together a lot in the future, as we have likely found the next great player rivalry in the NHL.

Only 1 game into his career, albeit a historic one, it is too early to be crowning Matthews as the next Crosby or Wayne Gretzky, but Matthews has all the pieces to become a franchise player for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He has elite offensive ability, yet a very improved 2 way game. Some scouts feel that could keep him from becoming a player we see at the top of offensive leader boards like Crosby and Ovechkin, leaving him more at a Jonathan Toews and Anze Kopitar level. But Matthews offensive ability is better than that of Toews and Kopitar, and his defensive ability has been compared to Kopitar by many scouts as well.

Once again it is way to early to guess what Matthews could become, as he has only played 1 NHL game, Matthews looks like the real deal. If I had to project him long term, I would say Matthews can become an 70-80 point per season player, while shutting down teams as a top defensive forward. Those numbers should put Matthews in the Art Ross and Hart Trophy (which is for the leading NHL scorer and MVP, respectively). His defensive ability seems to be close to elite, but a Selke Trophy is likely out of the picture as long as Toews, Kopitar, and Patrice Bergeron are in the league. Matthews has the ability and mindset to become a franchise player for the Maple Leafs, as well as one of the NHL’s premier players, now all he has to do is go out there and do it.