The Toronto Maple Leafs need one win this weekend to secure their first playoff spot since the 2012-13 season. The biggest reason they are in a position to make the playoffs is a dominant rookie class led by Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner. That trio has burst onto the scene this season with all three becoming immediate stars.
Matthews in particular has excelled and has put together one of the best goal scoring seasons ever for a player under the age of 20.
He enters the weekend needing just one goal to reach the 40-goal mark, something only 11 other players have done in a season before turning 20 (only two, Rick Nash and Steven Stamkos, have done it since 1992-93). He would also be the first rookie of any age to top 40 goals since Alex Ovechkin did it back in 2005-06 at the age of 20.
On Saturday, the Maple Leafs are hosting Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Crosby, the NHL’s current goal scoring leader, had a chance to talk at length about the impressive rookie season Matthews has had for the Maple Leafs and offered plenty of high praise
“I think the biggest thing that stands out is how he complete he is,” said Crosby, via TSN‘s Kristen Shilton. “That’s what I noticed from just watching him play. Just that maturity.
“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.”
Matthews has certainly raised his game down the stretch for Toronto. As the playoff push has gotten tighter, Matthews has scored eight goals and added four assists in the Maple Leafs’ past 11 games, a stretch that has seen them go 7-3-1.