There’s hype and then there’s Auston Matthews. Hype is when a kid is drafted and touted as the next big thing and maybe doesn’t pan out or takes some time to turn into the player his team hoped he’d be. Auston Matthews goes out and scores four goals in his first NHL game.
Plenty had been made about the 6-foot-3 center after he was drafted first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs. His Mexican-American heritage, how he dominated as an amateur before a season playing in Europe, his size, his all-around game on both offense and defense and how he could be the savior of a proud Original Six franchise that’s been lost in the hockey wilderness for decades. Just an inch shy of Mario Lemieux, some were saying he could come into the league and have the same kind of impact as the great Pittsburgh center who scored his first goal on his first shift to kick off his legendary career.
Nope. In his first game against the Ottawa Senators Auston Matthews showed he’s no Lemieux. He’s Auston Matthews, and he is very much for real.
The first game of the NHL season is really full of shocking moments, the hockey season tends to be about building up in excitement leading to the Stanley Cup finals, but Matthews scoring the first goal of the entire season for the league, then basically beating every Senator on the ice to score a second made the hockey world collectively stand up and take notice that his next 81 games could be worth paying attention to. The third goal, a hat trick in his opening game, just seemed to be the cherry on top. But the fourth, that was something else entirely. That was Matthews saying he’s on some other level. It was like the entire hockey world’s “Solsbury Hill” moment, we were all just Genesis-era Peter Gabriel witnessing Bruce Springsteen, making us realize we should all strive to be as good as what was in front of us.
A little much? Possibly. But so is four goals in your rookie appearance. So is the command Matthews showed in his first game and on the road. It could have been adrenaline, and the team still ended up losing in overtime, but they were in the game entirely because of their rookie. All that, and now the expectations for the Stanley Cup-starved Toronto fans is probably as high as it has been since around the time when Kerry Fraser wasn’t calling high sticking on Wayne Gretzky. It’s a lot for a guy who just turned 19, but as he displayed in his first NHL game, Auston Matthews doesn’t really seem bothered by any of that.