Auston Matthews is playing at a superstar level right now for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Don’t get too carried away just yet, Toronto Maple Leafs fans, but you can get a bit excited considering that your team are 10-2-1 on the year and are sitting atop the North Division, with a lot of their early success down to the elite play of Auston Matthews who has seemingly elevated his game to another level or two.
Of course, it is still early on in the 2020-21 season but, in what is a shortened 56-game schedule, the Maple Leafs are certainly looking like they will be one of the top dogs in the North Division and you should put a lot of money on them not only claiming the top seed but also actually embarking on a deep postseason run this year.
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Why’s that? Auston Matthews. Yes, the superstar forward appears to have unlocked more of his sky-high potential this season and he’s playing at a godly level right now, coming up big in clutch moments and dragging this team over the finishing line when they aren’t at their best. He has been electric to watch and, while Mitch Marner has also been pretty damn special so far along with a handful of other players who have played big roles, Matthews is one of the main factors behind why the Toronto Maple Leafs are the best team in the National Hockey League right now.
He has 15 points (11 G, 4 A) through 12 games with a plus / minus rating of +4, leading the entire National Hockey League in goals. He has scored in eight straight games with a league-leading five game-winning goals, and he will look to continue that streak against the Montreal Canadiens in what is a mouthwatering North Division matchup tonight.
Auston Matthews is playing at an elite level for the Toronto Maple Leafs
I’ve spoken before on how this was always going to be a big year for Matthews given that he really matured and developed his all-round game in 2019-20, while I also looked at the possibility of whether or not the 23-year-old could score 50 goals in 56 games. Well, given the current trajectory he is on, it isn’t out of the realms of possibility.
After all, Matthews boasts one of the quickest and deadliest releases in the entire National Hockey League, a weapon he is utilizing plenty this year given that he is currently shooting the puck at a 21.2 percent clip. It is also interesting that he only has two multi-goal games so far this season, and that is bound to change the deeper we get into this year so don’t be surprised if the elite center hots up even more and throws a few hat tricks in there for good measure.
There is no doubt that Matthews is the most feared forward in the league right now given that everything he touches seems to turn to gold, and the fact that he now has an incredible 58 goals across his last 82 games just paints the perfect picture of just how dominant and clinical he has been in the offensive zone. The scary thing for the rest of the NHL is that it seems that Matthews is only getting started too.
Because, not only is Matthews doing a stellar job of lighting the lamp on a regular basis, but he’s coming up in clutch moments and delivering when it matters most. He has five game-winning goals already this season, while he’s been involved in far more and he’s also making other big plays at key moments in games, winning the faceoff that led to his 11th goal of the year in a 3-1 win against the Vancouver Canucks on Monday.
Toronto wasn’t at their best in that contest but Matthews willed his team to victory, doing what was necessary to drag them over the finishing line and that is the hallmark of both a very good team and an elite player. He is also doing a stellar job when it comes to being dominant in all three zones and having a positive impact on the Leafs in every possible way.
He’s logging 21:58 of TOI, playing in all situations, he’s logged time on the penalty kill and he’s currently winning 53.5 percent of his draws, while he has racked up 19 hits and recorded 11 blocked shots and 12 Takeaways. Basically, Auston Matthews is playing a 200-foot game and that was the only real aspect missing from his already impressive game.
But, having really committed to the defensive side of the game and gone all in, he’s not taking a shift off, he’s playing down low and helping his defense to retrieve the puck, he’s developing a nice habit of being in the right place at the right time when it comes to picking off passes, he’s stripping pucks, playing hard on the forecheck, he’s battling hard in all three zones and he’s also added a new layer of consistency to his game.
Therefore, it is perhaps not surprising that Matthews has been so effective in the offensive zone given that he’s much more involved in the overall game, and you can tell that he’s really developing as a leader on and off the ice. You need your stars to step up and deliver when the rest of the team is having an off day, and Matthews has done that a lot already this year including on Monday when he quite literally took the game in his own hands.
He’s using his imposing 6-foot-3 and 223 pounds frame to land a lot more hits and bodychecks this season too, registering 4.3 hits per 60 minutes in 2020-21, and that extra attention to detail in the defensive zone is really paying off for both player and for team.
Overall, Matthews is playing himself into Hart Trophy contention right now and maybe even Selke Trophy contention if he can maintain his current high level of play in his own zone and in the faceoff circle. But, between his newfound maturity, his prowess in the offensive zone and his deadly howitzer of a shot that seems to be at the very peak of its powers this season, Auston Matthews is playing at a godly level that could elevate him to true superstar status in the NHL while, as we are seeing it play out currently, it could also elevate the Toronto Maple Leafs from pretender to true contender status given that they have an elite talent who can will them to win even when they aren’t at their best on certain nights.