Thursday, April 18, 2024

Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews on pace for historic season, chasing Wayne Gretzky and other all-time greats

Since his arrival to the NHL in the 2016-17 season, Auston Matthews has proved he has a knack for putting the puck in the net. After all, Matthews racked up 40 goals during his rookie campaign, which was tied for the ninth-most goals by a rookie in NHL history.

Matthews has registered at least 40 goals in six of his eight NHL seasons, including each of the last five years. The Toronto Maple Leafs star’s best showing came during the 2021-22 season, when he tallied 60 goals and won the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP. Matthews also set the Maple Leafs’ single-season goals record with his 60-goal campaign, passing Rick Valve (54).

With about two months remaining in the NHL regular season, Matthews is on pace to shatter his previous career-highs and join some very exclusive company in the goal-scoring department. As it should come as no surprise, Matthews lead the NHL in goals (49) and has a 10-goal advantage over the next closest goal scorer in Sam Reinhart (39 goals).

The 26-year-old has 49 goals in 53 games this season, and he’s on pace for 76 goals when it’s all said and done. That pace has certainly been aided by Matthews’ stellar play of late.

Matthews registered back-to-back hat tricks in wins against the Philadelphia Flyers on Feb. 15 and the Anaheim Ducks on Feb. 17. The Maple Leafs center also added a goal in Monday’s 4-2 victory against the St. Louis Blues.

As a result, Matthews became the first Maple Leafs player to score seven goals over a three-game span since Valve accomplished the feat from Feb. 28 to March 5, 1987. Babe Dye currently holds the record for most goals over a three-game stretch (9) when he did so from Feb. 2-9, 2021.

As Matthews embarks on a historic season, let’s take a closer look at what he could end up doing when the dust settles in 2023-24.

Where could Matthews be ranked all-time?

With Matthews currently sitting at 49 goals, Matthews has a chance to have one of the top goal-scoring seasons in NHL history. If he’s able to finish on a 76-goal pace, the Maple Leafs star will have produced the fifth-most goals in a single season in league history. That would tie him with Alexander Mogilny (1992-93), Phil Esposito (1970-71) and Teemu Selanne (1992-93).

Wayne Gretzky currently holds the record for most goals in a single season, as he tallied 92 in 1981-82 as a member of the Edmonton Oilers. Just two seasons later, Gretzky racked up 87 goals with the Oilers.

Brett Hull recorded 86 goals with the St. Louis Blues in 1990-91, which is the third-most goals in a season. Pittsburgh Penguins legend Mario Lemieux was right behind Hull with a 85-goal campaign in 1988-89.

Obviously, it would be an uphill battle for Matthews to get within earshot of an 87-goal season. However, Matthews has made a habit out of going on impressive goal-scoring streaks throughout this season. 

Matthews has found the back of the net nine times over the last seven games following the All-Star break, including six goals in just two of those contests. The Maple Leafs star scored at least one goal in eight of his 13 games in January, and he had two multi-goal games during that span.

The 26-year-old would probably need to register a few more hat tricks to increase his pace for the season. Still, considering the elite rate at which he’s scoring goals right now, it’s definitely not outside of the realm of possibilities for Matthews to have one of the three or four best goal-scoring seasons in NHL history. 

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