Culture

Auston Matthews: The Greatest Toronto Maple Leaf of All Time, and it’s Not Even Close

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 13: Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Arena on April 13, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Flames defeated the Maple Leafs 3-2 in overtime. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

From the desert of Arizona to the hockey Mecca of the world. Since being drafted first overall in 2016, Auston Matthews has exceeded almost every expectation of him in Toronto.

5-6-8-13.

Four lottery numbers that changed the course of Toronto Maple Leafs’ history forever.

Dave Keon, Darryl Sittler, Mats Sundin, sure, they’re legendary Toronto Maple Leafs’ alumni, but they’re no Matthews.

“I felt really that it was something that Maple Leafs’ fans deserved, there was this mix of happiness and satisfaction that something like that went their way.”

Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan told the Toronto Star

A Debut to Remember

Hit 'em with the four like Auston Matthews: The rookie (34) scored four goals in his NHL debut
Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

In his NHL debut, Matthews scored four goals, the most in a debut in modern NHL history. Later that season, Matthews surpassed Wendel Clark’s record for most goals in a season by a Toronto Maple Leafs’ rookie (34) and the franchise record for most points by a Leafs’ rookie (Peter Ihnacak, 66).

“Well, it was a good run, eh?”

Clark told the Toronto Star after Matthews broke his 31-year-old record

When asked when he knew his record was in jeopardy, Clark responded simply,

“The second period of the first game,”

Matthew finished with 40 goals in his rookie year, the second-most in the league behind only Sidney Crosby. Matthews also led the Toronto Maple Leafs’ to the playoffs for the first time in a full season since 2004. Matthews won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie, the first Leaf to win the award since Clark. 

Since then, Matthews has the highest points per 60 minutes in Leafs’ history (3.269). At just 23 years old, Matthews already ranks 14th all-time for goals scored as a Leaf (186) and is second all-time in Leafs’ history for goals per game, behind only Charlie Conacher (0.583). Matthews also ranks top ten in league history for goals per game, joining players like Mike Bossy, Mario Lemieux, Alex Ovechkin, and Wayne Gretzky.

If Matthews continues to average 37 goals per season, he’ll surpass Sundin (420) to become the all-time greatest goal scorer in Toronto Maple Leafs’ history before he even turns 30.

A Truly Unique Player

Family first: Matthews (centre) with his parents Brian and Ema. A Coyotes fan growing up, Matthews’ favorite players were Shane Doan and Daniel Brière. Matthews was in attendance for this iconic goal! Little did he know that he’d one day be competing with Alex Ovechkin for the Maurice Rocket Richard Trophy.
Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no denying that Matthews’ statistics make him worthy of being included in the G.L.O.A.T. debate. It’s what Matthews represents to the Toronto Maple Leaf’s fans and all of hockey that makes him the greatest.

Growing up in Scottsdale, Arizona, Matthews’ success represents the NHL’s growth. The son of a Latina mother, Matthews is, without a doubt, the greatest hockey player of Latino descent ever. His success as a Leaf may not have been possible without the sport’s growth caused, in part, by the trade of Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988.

The product of successful NHL expansion, Matthews represents the future of the league, a future that has The Great One himself excited.

“It is one of the things that has changed a little bit in the southwest. The best athletes at eight, nine, 10, 11 play baseball, tennis, golf, or whatever. And now some of the best ones are saying: ‘I want to play ice hockey.’ That opens doors for a lot of other kids and gives everybody opportunities and exposure. What Matthews has done is really something special.”

Gretzky told the Toronto Star

A New Era in Toronto

Matthews wearing the Leafs Reverse Retro jerseys
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

For Leaf’s fans, Matthews signals a new beginning. The start of his career coincided with the 100th anniversary of the Leafs’ founding, an anniversary that reminded Leafs’ fans of the success their team and fanbase once enjoyed.

Unlike Ted Kennedy, George Armstrong, Johnny Bower, or Keon, Matthews’ tenure with the Leafs’ began in the midst of one of the longest Stanley Cup droughts in league history. Rather than being watched by fans in fedoras smoking cigarettes at Maple Leaf Gardens, Matthews is a 21st-century superstar and the greatest hope for a fan base that’s decades removed from their last sip from Lord Stanley’s mug.

Toronto’s First Hockey Superstar

From hockey sweater to tuxedo: Matthews loves fashion and has appeared in GQ multiple times. Matthews mentioned Washington Wizards point guard Russell Westbrook as one of his biggest fashion influences.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Off the ice, Matthews takes the title of superstar to heart. From Apple commercials, GQ covers to a ‘bromance’ with pop star Justin Bieber; Matthews has embraced his role with the Maple Leafs. Matthews changes hockey culture and the perception of the Leafs.

Auston Matthews makes the Toronto Maple Leafs cool again. Most importantly, Matthews makes being a fan of the team cool as well.

The only thing missing is a Stanley Cup.

Once Matthews and the Leafs end the championship drought that’s existed since 1967 (and they will end the drought!), Matthews’ legend will only grow, enough that he’ll one day stand amongst other great Leafs’ on Legends Row.

With the Leafs atop the North Division and in the midst of the best season in franchise history, this could be the year.

When asked what advice he’d give to Matthews, Gretzky said,

“I remember being 18 and being compared to (Marcel) Dionne and (Guy) Lafleur and all of a sudden, you’re 26 and that new kid is coming in. Is this (Mario) Lemieux the next Gretzky? It goes by really quickly. Just enjoy it.”

Leafs fans should do the same. Auston Matthews is a Toronto Maple Leaf, and the Toronto Maple Leafs are Stanley Cup contenders.

Just enjoy it.

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