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Auston Matthews had rookie season for the ages as Maple Leafs reach playoffs

UPDATED: Mon., April 10, 2017, 5:17 p.m.

Auston Matthews’ rookie season for the Toronto Maple Leafs has been one for the ages. (Jeffrey T. Barnes / Associated Press)
Auston Matthews’ rookie season for the Toronto Maple Leafs has been one for the ages. (Jeffrey T. Barnes / Associated Press)

TORONTO – It took all of 14 minutes, 18 seconds for Auston Matthews to set his first record this season.

On a mid-October night in Ottawa, Matthews became the first player picked first overall at the NHL draft to score two goals in his first period. He finished as the only player in the league’s 100-year history to score four times in a debut.

The 19-year-old plays his first playoff game for the Toronto Maple Leafs in Washington later this week. But he has already had a historic rookie season by any measure.

“You knew he had the talent,” Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said, “But sometimes it’s just a matter of time before it translates to the NHL and obviously he’s wasted no time. So you kind of wonder, if that’s how he comes out of the gate what’s he going to be like in a couple years from now?”

Matthews set franchise rookie records by scoring 40 goals and collecting 69 points, eclipsing marks by Wendel Clark and Peter Ihnacak that had stood for decades.

He’s the first rookie since Alex Ovechkin to score 40 goals, one of only 19 in league history and one of only six teenagers. He’s only the fourth to hit the mark before his 20th birthday and is now the highest-scoring American rookie in league history. Only Sidney Crosby scored more goals in the NHL (44) this season.

Matthews topped even Crosby, and everyone else, with 32 even-strength goals. That tied him for the sixth-highest total ever for a rookie, matching Eric Lindros, Mario Lemieux and Mike Gartner. He’s one of nine rookies to ever score that many and the first since 1993.

Already 6-3 and 216 pounds, Matthews did it with power, speed and electric skill.

“He scores goals different ways and I think that’s probably a big reason why he’s been so consistent is he’s got a great shot, but he can also score from in close and goes to the net hard, too,” Crosby said.

Matthews finished with 19 wrist shot goals, 10 snap-shot markers, six via tip and another five on the backhand. Matthews set a new Leafs rookie record in firing 279 shots. The only rookies in NHL history with more? Teemu Selanne with 387, Ovechkin with 425, Wayne Gretzky with 284 and Dale Hawerchuk with 339.

Matthews led the NHL in scoring 14 game-opening goals, equaling Dave Andreychuk’s franchise record.

Born in California, but raised in Arizona, Matthews learned the game in chilly rinks across the desert where ice time and proper competition wasn’t always easy to find. There was no junior hockey league domination like Crosby or Connor McDavid.

What was so impressive to Crosby was how mature Matthews seemed already. There were nights of futility certainly, including against Crosby and Henrik Zetterberg, and he got hammered in the faceoff circle (46.8 percent), but generally Matthews held his own while leading all Leaf forwards in garnering almost 18 minutes of ice time per night.

“I think that the biggest thing that stands out is probably just how complete he is,” Crosby said.

It could earn him the Leafs’ first Calder trophy in 51 years, making him Toronto’s first rookie of the year since Brit Selby in 1966. S

“Obviously (Matthews) is a special talent,” Toronto coach Mike Babcock said. “More importantly, Matthews is a special person. That’s going to allow him to be a good leader because he does it right every day. In the end, that’ll allow him to drive a franchise and it’ll allow him to win. I think he’s a real good player and a real good man and has a chance to be a special player.”

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