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Scottsdale’s Matthews makes memorable first impression in NHL debut

 

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For many years now, the spotlight has been on Auston Matthews.

And Matthews has earned every bit, from being a standout youth player with the Arizona Bobcats, to playing for the U.S. National Team Development Program (NTDP) to being the No. 1 overall selection in last June’s NHL Draft.

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Then on Oct. 12, the Scottsdale native made his NHL debut with the Toronto Maple Leafs to the tune of four goals in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators, making history by becoming the first player to score four goals in his NHL debut in the modern era.

“It’s pretty surreal – I couldn’t believe it, what was happening out there,” Matthews told reporters in Ottawa after the game. “Our line (with William Nylander and Zach Hyman) was clicking tonight. We were really fortunate. We created a lot of opportunities and we were able to cash in on them.”

“It didn’t really surprise me too much,” Toronto teammate and fellow rookie Mitch Marner added. “I knew what kind of player he was. He was around the net all night and got rewarded for it. [Nylander] and [Hyman], they got the puck down low and just kept finding him. He was always around and just cleaning it up.”

Even Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock was impressed.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said to NHL.com. “He’s a special player. You see that second goal he scored, not many guys do that. We’re fortunate that we have him and yet can be way, way better than we were tonight. We’re going to get way better.”

Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson is now a trivia question answer as the goaltender who was the first to give up four goals to a player making his NHL debut.

“He’s good,” Anderson told NHL.com. “He had a great night as an individual, but as a group, we found a way to win. But hats off to him. He was an outstanding player tonight. I’ll be remembered for one thing, I guess, for a long, long time in Toronto.”

When Sportsnet interviewed Toronto GM Lou Lamoriello about Matthews’ first game, he said it wasn’t the four goals he’ll remember most.

Matthews was on the ice when Kyle Turris bagged the OT winner and took all the blame for the loss.

“That last play was 100 percent my fault,” Matthews told reporters. “Obviously, we came here to win and we didn’t get that done. So obviously, just a good learning point for myself and the team.”

“For me the most important part of the evening was his comment after the game,” said Lamoriello. “He wanted to take full responsibility for the goal. That is what was on his mind. Winning was something that was and is very important. I think that was as mature a comment at that given time as you could get from anybody no matter what age they are.”

In speaking with TSN, Matthews noted that individual success this season is coming from playing with fellow youngsters Nylander and Hyman.

“We really complement each other well,” Matthews said. “We always look for each other out there. We kind of just let our skill take over and I think the chemistry on the ice has really grown in each game we’ve played together.”

One NHL scout told Sportsnet that Matthews’ knack to read the game is uncanny.

“The intriguing part is his ability to read the defenseman’s play, whether it’s instincts or anticipation, however you want to label it,” the scout said. “He has a sense of where to go without the puck. He makes plays that aren’t the obvious play, the usual play almost everybody makes. He can force a turnover simply by doing stuff even really good defensemen don’t expect.”

Photo/Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images

— Matt Mackinder