When the NHL season started, not many people could have predicted the production which this talented rookie class would put forward, perhaps most impressively Auston Matthews. With his historic season, Matthews has a chance to accomplish what no Maple Leaf has done since Brit Selby in the 1965-1966 season: win the Calder Trophy.
Lets go back to September. Analysts and fans alike seemed to scoff at the idea that Matthews would be able to score 60 points. After all, he was entering his first year in the league. There was no comparable for how his experience in the Swiss league would translate to the bigger faster NHL. Lest we forget, he is only 19 years old and potentially not mature enough. That was evident early on in the season from October 27th to November 17th when Matthews went 13 games without a goal. At that point, a season in which Matthews could even get close to sixty points would have been considered a success.
Fast forward to March. Matthews has accrued 55 points in 62 games for Toronto this season. That’s just one point behind Patrik Laine for the rookie lead in scoring. His face off percentage ranks seventh among rookies in percentage (among rookies who have taken at least 100 draws). Matthews further leads all rookie centreman in ice time, at just under 18 minutes a game. For a young guy to be depended for that kind of ice time, by a veteran coach like Mike Babcock, speaks volumes of his maturity and ability.
As for the competition? It seems to be a three horse race at this point with Laine and Matthew Murray. All have had campaigns worthy of consideration. But Matthews is doing it with less.
Laine has been playing the wing on a line with Mark Scheifele, Mathieu Perreault, and on occasion, Nikolaj Ehlers. Scheifele is having a career year after a good showing at the World Cup of Hockey with Team North America, posting 65 points on the year. As for Perreault? He is a veteran, coming into the league in 2010. Although his 26 points does not label him as an offensive force, he brings relevant NHL experience to the young line. Not to mention the second year play in Ehlers, 49 points on the season. Although we do not see this combination as much as earlier in the season, it is always in Paul Marurice’s pocket if he needs a goal late.
Matthews on the other hand is playing on a line with Zach Hyman and Connor Brown for 11.69% of the Leafs games, the second-most consistent trio Babcock has rolled out. Both have had impressive rookie campaigns, Hyman with 24 points to Brown’s 27. But neither of which is as experienced or talented as Scheifele or Perreault. Matthews is the driving force behind the success of that line. You need not look any further than the number of shots and attempts Matthew’s takes to see this. His 220 attempts on goal rank him at sixth-most in the league, 75 more than Laine. Only Tyler Seguin, Alex Ovechkin, Brent Burns, Patrice Bergeron and Patrick Kane have more. His 937 overall attempts rank fourth among centers that have played 650 minutes. Only Connor McDavid, Ryan Johansen, and John Tavares have more.
That’s pretty good company.
When comparing the two, Laine has much more experience and talent on his line. This bolsters his offensive totals. Matthews does not have that luxury making his production more impressive.
As for Murray?
It is hard to compare a skaters stats, to a goalie in any circumstance. However, no one would question the impressive year that the Penguins goaltender is having. Among goaltenders that have played at least 30 games, his .926 save percentage ranks fourth and the 2.29 goals against average comes in at eighth. His 23 wins on the year are 16 more than the second place rookie. In a year with such high flying offensive production however, it will prove difficult for the net minder to outshine Matthews.
Only three goaltenders have managed to win the Calder since 1995; Steve Mason, Andrew Raycroft, and Evgeni Nabokov. This is not to suggest that it isn’t possible for Murray to win, but most of those guys won in a year that rookie scoring was down. The most points by a rookie in any of those years was Michael Ryder in 03-04 with 62. If Matthews stays on this pace (16 points in 14 games in February) he shouldn’t have a problem breaking the 70 mark or beyond. This will make it very difficult for Murray.
Let’s not forget, Murray plays for a team one year removed from winning the cup. There is plenty of support in front of him to help. Matthews again has had more success with less experience and talent at his disposal.
The Bottom Line?
Matthews’ production for an extremely young Leafs team leaves him on track not only to shatter Wendel Clark‘s rookie scoring record of 34 goals, but leaves him as the front runner for the Calder trophy. His maturity and performance is even more impressive being in the biggest NHL market. Despite impressive years from Murray and Laine, Matthews deserves to win the trophy if it were given out today. If the Maple Leafs make the playoffs, it will only bolster his case.