As the No. 1 overall draft pick in the 2016 draft, forward Auston Matthews entered the league with lofty expectations, especially considering he was taken by one of the NHL’s flagship franchises in the Toronto Maple Leafs. Incredibly, despite how unreasonable some of those expectations may be, midway through the season Matthews is living up the hype.
“He's an elite player,” Capitals head coach Barry Trotz said after Tuesday’s morning skate. “He's got size, he's got the incredible vision and poise and hands for a young man.”
“There isn't a skill that he doesn't possess,” Matt Niskanen said.
After an incredible debut in which he scored four goals, Matthews’ production tapered off with only two goals in his next 18 games.
But the rookie phenom has exploded again and now has 20 goals on the season including six in his last six games and two in Sunday’s Centennial Classic. He now leads all rookies in both points and goals, even Winnipeg sharpshooter Patrick Laine who has found the back of the net 19 times this season, and he’s doing it without elite level linemates.
Matthews has spent almost the entire season on a line that features Zach Hyman, a player with only 22 career points and 52 games of NHL experience to his name.
“Auston Matthews is carrying his own weight,” Trotz said. “He's not protected. He's all that and that's pretty exceptional for a 19-year-old player coming in here.”
What makes Matthews so dangerous is his vision. To a man, the Caps felt that was the most impressive skill Matthews possesses in what is clearly a loaded arsenal.
“The presence to know how a goaltender will react off a scramble play and how he knows what's going on around him and what are his options,” Trotz said. “He's able to process it at such a high rate that it makes it look really easy and it's not that easy. Trust me.”
“He's got the skill to execute the plays that he can see,” Karl Alzner said. “A lot of times you have one or the other and he seems to have them both.”
Stopping Matthews will be the Caps’ biggest priority Tuesday as he is Toronto’s leading scorer with 32 points. Pretty impressive for a 19-year-old rookie.
“We have been seeing what the hype was all last year and even before that,” Alzner said. “It's fun to watch but also [a] real fun challenge for us.”
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