Toronto Maple Leafs: Impact of Toronto market on Auston Matthews’ rankings

NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 06: Auston Matthews
NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 06: Auston Matthews /

Both the NHL Network and the Hockey News have revealed their player rankings for the 2017-18 season which includes Auston Matthews beating out some quality players.

Every year the Hockey News releases a ranking of the top 50 NHL players before the season, In the 2017-18 version of the rankings, a Toronto Maple Leafs player finally makes it back on the list for the first time since 2014. That was when Phil Kessel was ranked 44th overall, after scoring 37 goals, 43 assists and 80 points in 82 games.

Only after one season, Auston Matthews now finds himself in the top 10 as he was named the eighth best player in the game which has raised some eyebrows. It was a highly debated topic on Toronto sports radio and in other places this week.

The NHL Network put together another ranking of players based on position. At center Matthews was fourth behind Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Some notable names that were ranked lower than Matthews include Nicklas Backstrom, John Tavares, Steven Stamkos, Tyler Seguin, Mark Scheifele. There is no doubting that Matthews deserves to be among the top 10 centers in the league but should he have been given top-five consideration?

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Considering the competition there is a case to be made for Matthews. He was second among centers in goals scored with 40 and 10th in points with 69. According to played 52.6% of his shifts with Zach Hyman and William Nylander, and 36.2% with Hyman and Connor Brown at five-on-five. That is 88.8% of his ice time at even strength with rookies, other centers like him usually have an established winger playing with them, although Nylander is a quality winger to play with.

Since the 2004-05 lockout, Matthews’ 40 goals were the most by a rookie center since Crosby had 39 in 2005-06.  14 of his 40 goals were the first goal of the game which is an NHL record by a rookie (Alexander Ovechkin had 12 in 2005-06 and Teemu Selanne had 10 in 1992-93). That type of dominance certainly puts him among the elite players in the game and it also helps that he gets more attention from the large media market in Toronto. Would he receiver the same attention if he played in a smaller market, probably not to the same level but he would still receive similar attention.

There is also something to be said about performing in a tough market like Toronto and an even tougher head coach Mike Babcock at the age of 19. So there is definitely a case to be made for Matthews to be a top five center in the league right now, but how about a top 10 player in the NHL?

“His game is just so well-rounded. He’s a guy who can score goals but he’s a guy who can play away from the puck. He’s strong on the puck. He scores goals different ways, and that is probably a big reason why he is so consistent.”

Again, a case can be made for Matthews but at the same time, you have to wonder if being a Leafs player gives him a boost. Considering the media attention the Leafs get, the pressure on management to turn things around and being a first overall pick, Matthews definitely exceeded expectations placed on him. There have been a number of free agents who have stayed away from the Leafs because of the pressure, but to see young players like Matthews be successful shows that it takes a special talented player. It might be early to say for sure whether he is a top 10 player in the league because he only has one season under his belt but is there any doubt that he will have a drop off in production?

Toronto Maple Leafs
TORONTO, CANADA – MARCH 07: Gustav Nyquist /

He has the physical tools that will allow him to be a dominant player, if he wants to be. Seeing the comments from Babcock throughout the season, challenging Matthews to continue to improve and the way he responded, that is not something every young player can do, let alone as a center. Bodog has Matthews at a 17/2 odds to win the Hart Trophy, third behind McDavid and Crosby which is surprising given that Matthews did not make the top 10 in MVP voting last season.

It just goes to show how Matthews is viewed by players in the league who are always quick to praise Matthews including Crosby.

"“His game is just so well-rounded. He’s a guy who can score goals but he’s a guy who can play away from the puck. He’s strong on the puck. He scores goals different ways, and that is probably a big reason why he is so consistent. He’s got a great shot, but he can also score from in close and goes to the net hard too. I think he’s just shown a lot of maturity in his game early on. He’s got a really good wrist shot. He’s not a one-timer guy like a Stamkos, or an Ovechkin. Those guys are known for that. He’s just a really skilled guy who has a lot of strength, almost like a power forward would have. It’s a good combination to have And he can skate. You can tell he played pro hockey for a year. And I think he enjoys the pressure. You can tell he’s really raised his game here down the stretch when the games have been important. He’s really embraced everything here.”-Crosby at the 2016 All-Star game."

This is a unanimous opinion across the league and it will be interesting to see how Matthews handles the rising expectations. The Toronto media will certainly keep an eye on that and if he excels, those rankings will continue to change.

Next: Five prospects to watch with the Toronto Marlies

Do you agree with the rankings? Should Matthews be ranked with the top players in the league or is it too early? Let us know in the comments.