To the absolute shock of no one, Auston Matthews is once again #1 in PPP’s Top 25 Under 25. Our former #1 pick, our 6’3” sniper who arrived to herald the start of three straight seasons making the playoffs, Auston Matthews is a Toronto Maple Leaf and #1 in our hearts.
What’s left to say about him that hasn’t already been said?
The voters unanimously agreed that Matthews’ season and forecast was still enough to hold off Marner’s breakout season. Matthews’ peerless scoring, insane wrist shot and puck handling in tight spaces was still present, and last year he made an intentional effort to improve his passing and distribution to get more assists.
Last summer, Arvind wrote about how insanely good Matthews is at creating his own offense — his shots, scoring chances, and goals. It’s worth reading to get a reminder of just how good Matthews is at that offense thing.
I can’t speak for any of the other voters, but I didn’t even consider it all that close between Matthews and Marner. I put Matthews into a whole other tier — he is better at a more important skill (scoring goals), he plays a more important position (center), he is better at creating goals and scoring chances for himself, and his best skill does not rely as much on having a teammate to put in his chances.
Trying to Put Auston Matthews in Perspective
Matthews had the best season of his career with 73 points, despite only playing in 68 games. In fact, he was on pace for 45 goals and 88 points over an 82 game season, which would set a career high in goals and easily besting his previous bests in assists and total points. It was also his best season at even strength by CF% and FF%, leading one to believe that he was able to break through Babcock’s system to improve his possession game as well. He followed all of that up by scoring 5 goals in the 7 game series vs Boston.
All of these improvements came in a year where he played without his former partners in crime, William Nylander and Zach Hyman, on his wing. Instead, he played with a revolving door of new wingers. He started game one of the season with Patrick Marleau and Tyler Ennis, and ended the season with Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen. Both of the latter two wingers enjoyed breakout seasons... weird, huh?
The Case Against Auston Matthews
If you’re going to nitpick, you can point to Matthews’ play without the puck in his own end. I will be kind and say it is still developing, which is funny since when he was drafted we all heard how he was the next great two-way center and was endlessly compared to Anze Kopitar. Now he’s developed into a monster of an offensive center with some lacklustre defense, though that might be overstating it. You can see the difference between the two sides of his game in his RAPM chart:
For what it’s worth, the defensive bars are less extreme than they were to start his career.
The other thing people nitpick is his new contract, that 5 year $11.634M AAV deal that will surely lead Matthews to leaving as a free agent to play in Arizona if you listen to Brian Burke. It’s too much cap hit and not enough term. Frankly, I don’t see it that way. The percentage of his cap hit when he signed his contract is less than the 5 year contract Evgeni Malkin, signed after his ELC ended. It is only marginally larger than Jack Eichel’s cap hit. It is more than a bunch of very good players that you would expect Matthews to make more than, because Auston Matthews is better than they are.
If the term is the big concern, I think this off season’s trend of RFAs wanting shorter term — maybe even less than 5 years — will make us quickly appreciate how good, much less fine, his contract is. He doesn’t want to bolt as soon as possible, he wants to maximize his earnings because he’s so good that he can bet on himself like that.
We also don’t really rank player contracts in this series, but I felt it worth mentioning.
What Other Voters Said
Arvind basically wrote the article for me, but with fewer words. I also want it known I didn’t realize he made the Malkin comparison until after I had already written the paragraph about their cap hits above.
Arvind: Matthews is a really interesting player. More and more, I’m starting to feel like he’s the Evgeni Malkin of the next generation. His individual scoring numbers are eye-popping, just like Malkin’s were in his prime. He does it in a different way than Malkin did — more goals, fewer assists, but there are some similarities there. Malkin ‘lost’ value relative to the other elite centres of his era with his relatively poor shot suppression and a poor penalty differential, especially for a high end superstar. Matthews doesn’t have the latter issue, but his inability to limit opposition chances is a real problem, and is what is currently preventing him from being the second best player in the world, in my opinion. Matthews is already a star. But his potential is far beyond that. His potential is “by far the best American player of all time”, and to hit that, he needs to start buffing out his 200-foot game, rather than re-tooling his release again to take it from the 98th to 99th percentile. It remains to be seen if he can improve in this way. It’s not as easy as trying harder — defence is a legitimate skill, and he might just not have it, the same way Sean Couturier won’t ever learn to shoot like Auston. Everything we’ve heard about Matthews is that he truly wants to be great, and I believe it. You don’t come from his background to where he is now without that desire. It’s now just a question if he can make that improvement.
Hardev also dreams of Matthews working to improve his weaknesses:
Hardev: Auston Matthews is an elite franchise centre and might just end up being the greatest goal-scorer of his generation. He’s going to be 22-years-old in September and I hope all the flaws in his game that we talk about can get smoothed over. It won’t be easy, Babcock seems ready to lean on his two top centres more this year and that includes putting Matthews in tougher situations. William Nylander joining his wing will definitely help with that. Fire Mike Babcock. All hail Mike Babcock.
Species: Make him the damn captain already.
Shut Up and Show Us Some of Those Sweet, Sweet Matthews Goals Dammit!
For everyone who skipped my blah blah blah above, this is where you should stop scrolling to relive the great Matthews goals:
How many goals does Matthews score next year?