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Top 25 Under 25: #1 - Auston Matthews

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Here’s what the Toronto hockey world has to say about him.

Washington Capitals v Toronto Maple Leafs - Game Six Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

What does Auston Matthews mean to the Toronto Maple Leafs?

Maple Leafs media outlets have spent the past year looking at his play, what he does on the ice, how the team improved in the standings, and yay! Playoffs! However there’s more to the Matthews era than just what’s on ice.

To celebrate Auston Matthews first season with the Maple Leafs, I spoke with people from all areas of Toronto Maple Leafs fandom, from the press box to the fans in seats to those in Arizona - about just what Auston Matthews means to the Maple Leafs and their fans.

Justin Bourne, former Toronto Marlies video coach, currently writing with The Athletic

He means the team rockets from punchline to powerhouse. He means other good players (like the deal or not, Marleau probably doesn't come without Matthews). He makes his two wingers better. He means easier assignments for your other centers, making them better too. He means fun and hope and excitement and all the things Leafs fans have only fantasized about for decades! Yes, the hockey gods have been cruel to this franchise, but at least on day one of this season, the hope isn't unjustified.

Sean McIndoe aka ‘Down Goes Brown’, writer at Sportsnet, The Hockey News, etc.. a

Here's the crazy thing about Auston Matthews: I'm not sure you can overstate his upside in Toronto. He's one year into his NHL career, and right now if you predicted that he's going to end up being the best player in the entire history of the Toronto Maple Leafs, nobody would really call you unreasonable. That's insane. This franchise has been around for 100 years; it shouldn't be possible for a 19-year-old kid with one season under his belt to already be on track to be the best player they've ever had. But here we are.

That's the good news. But that said, man... can we slow down just a bit? It feels like the whole hockey world -- not just the irrational fringes of Leafs Nation, but like, everybody -- is ready to anoint Matthews as the next Crosby or McDavid. He's already the fourth best center in the league, according to the NHL Network, and even crazy Leaf fans are seeing stuff like that and going "um, maybe pump the brakes a bit". Inevitably, that sort of thing will lead to a backlash. Then we'll have the backlash against the backlash. Then there will be the backlash against that. And then training camp will start.

Personally, I've been doing the Maple Leafs fan thing for long enough that I'm already trying to figure out how this all goes wrong. Injury? Trade demand? Contract dispute? Meddling significant other? Torch-wielding local media? Maybe all of the above. I mean, are we really going to get another 15 or 20 years of this guy being one of the best players in the sport? As the old saying goes: Fool me once, shame on you, but fool me literally every day for five straight decades, well, Go Leafs Go.

That's what we're dealing with. He could be the best player the franchise has ever seen, or its most heart-breaking disappointment, or something in between. I have no idea, and neither do you, but it's all on the table right now. There's never been a more exhilarating and terrifying second-year player in Toronto sports history. Buckle up, I guess.

Chris Johnston, writer for Sportsnet

What Auston Matthews does for Toronto is give everyone license to think big. That’s no small feat given where this franchise has been.

For the Leafs, he’s the foundation of something potentially special; a superstar scorer with a grinder’s work ethic. A young man of high character. To long-suffering fans, Matthews serves as a totem – a No. 1 centre that can be held up and pointed to as proof their loyalty might eventually be rewarded.

The Leafs will join the Stanley Cup conversation with Matthews on the roster. Even with plenty of variables capable of derailing that quest – poor roster management and/or injuries and/or better-run rivals and/or bad luck – a California-born, Scottsdale-raised teenager has already managed to change the way we think about and talk about the future of an historically inept organization.

Oh, and it took him less than 100 games to do it.

Kristen Shilton, Maple Leafs reporter for TSN

What Auston Matthews means for the franchise and the fans is the same - his presence is a beacon of hope. He's driven towards bringing a Stanley Cup to Toronto and the players around him can see and feel that commitment. At 19 years old Matthews' carries himself with a maturity befitting someone twice his age, while playing the most demanding forward position. Hardships don't outwardly rattle him; his confidence appears ingrained. When you're able to command the game the way he already can, just one season into what should be a long career in this city, it's hard not to believe in what the future might hold for the Maple Leafs.

James Mirtle, Editor-in-Chief of The Athletic Toronto

To read Mirtles thoughts, please subscribe to The Athletic. You can subscribe now for only $5 per month

Omar White, writer at Tip of the Tower and co-host of the Breaking Ballard podcast.

The Leafs winning the lottery and drafting Auston Matthews was probably one of the greatest moments of my lifetime. We’ve need a number one center for years now, and with Matthews we have one. He can score, he’s smart with the puck, and make a great play. Watching him over the season wasn’t just watching the progress of the Leafs’ top-line center, but the progress of a future top center in the NHL. So what should Leafs fans expect from him next season? Is another 40-goal-season possible? Probably not, but we don’t have to worry at all about seeing Auston Matthews in the same sentence as, “sophomore slump”. He started last season scoring four goals in the first game. Maybe he could get five?

Sarah Hall, Managing Editor at Five For Howling.

Auston Matthews does so much being a bi-racial kid from Arizona. He shows that hockey in the desert matters. He shows that Arizona hockey is something that is growing. He does more good in Toronto than he would in Arizona showing that.

Walter Zurowski, writer at Maple Leafs Hot Stove, prospect GIF’s at @FutureOfThe6

Auston Matthews has brought excitement back to the center of the hockey universe. It's truly amazing that a kid from Arizona has blossomed into a star in the world's biggest hockey market. Toronto's franchise has been around for a century, but Auston Matthews could very well be the biggest star the city has ever seen. There is just an aura around Maple Leafs hockey that has not been there for decades. Success is no longer just a pipe dream for Leafs fans, it's expected.

Evan Lemire, Maple Leafs fan.

Matthews is pretty much the air that I breathe but the entire '16/'17 season was pretty special for my family and most of the excitement was because of him. It was the first year my wife really got into hockey and by midseason she was super invested. She had tears in her eyes when I explained how insane his four-goal debut was (she was pregnant but still). We got married last year and that game is almost as special of a 2016 memory as our wedding day. Our son (whose middle name is Auston) was born in March and we watched every game as a family, from their win against Philly that month (the day he was born) up to the end of their playoff run. My son was asleep on my wife when Matthews scored his 40th and I jumped up and involuntarily yelled which spooked the baby and his arm shot out and pointed at the TV which was pretty hilarious. I'm really excited because I think Matthews will mean to my son was Sundin meant to me growing up. Also I've attached probably my favourite picture ever.

Reg Medina, Maple Leafs fan.

My mom passed away from Cancer the day before the draft lottery. Winning that lottery and watching Matthews has gotten me the darkest most difficult time in my life.

When everything seemed to be going wrong, the Leafs were finally the one thing that went right in my world.

It's been awesome.

@pixnpucks:

nice guy, tries hard, loves the game...... also able to actually score 40 goals.

SEASON TEAM LEAGUE GP G A TP PIM
SEASON TEAM LEAGUE GP G A TP PIM
2014-15 USNTDP Juniors USHL 24 20 28 48 10
U.S. National U18 Team USDP 60 55 61 116 30
USA U18 WJC-18 7 8 7 15 0
USA U20 WJC-20 5 1 2 3 4
2015-16 ZSC Lions NLA 36 24 22 46 6
USA U20 WJC-20 7 7 4 11 2
USA WC 10 6 3 9 2
2016-17 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 82 40 29 69 14
Team North America WCup 3 2 1 3 0
eliteprospects.com

As said many times above, Auston Matthews is one of the most significant player, if not the most significant player, on the Toronto Maple Leafs in the past decade.

Please share your stories, gifs, clips, whatever in the comments. Thank you all for reading this years top 25. Now to figure out what to write about Auston next year....