For any Toronto Maple Leafs’ fans who have watched Auston Matthews since his rookie season in 2016-17, his growth toward stardom has been phenomenal. For the past two seasons, he’s been the Rocket Richard Trophy winner for scoring goals. In a COVID-shortened 2020-21 season, he scored 41 goals. This past season, although it wasn’t a full season for him, he scored 60 goals and set age-long Maple Leafs’ franchise records for goals.
Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Marner, Matthews, Bunting & Steeves
Looking Back at Last Season, Looking Ahead at the Coming Season
Given how he’s been progressing steadily, that Matthews had an amazing 2021-22 season isn’t that much of a surprise. However, that he scored 60 goals and added 46 assists (for 106 points) was better than most even ardent fans might have expected. The interesting thing is that he did it in less than a full season.
Just a year ago, he and the Maple Leafs’ medical staff met to decide that his injured wrists needed more aggressive attention than simply rest. And, Matthews went under the knife. In the end, he missed several games to start the season. Then in March, Matthews was suspended for two games for cross-checking Buffalo Sabres’ defenceman Rasmus Dahlin. In total, he missed nine games.
What Will Happen When Matthews Can Play a Full Season?
There’s every reason to believe Matthews would have scored a few more goals and points had he played the entire season. So, could he put together an even better season? The simple answer is “Yes.” But he has to stay healthy for an entire season.
The truth is that Matthews hasn’t played a full season (his highest total is last season’s 73 games) since his rookie season. Should Matthews be able to play an entire season, there are several reasons why he could raise his goal-scoring total and his season’s point totals even higher. Scoring 60 goals again might be a tough feat; however, surpassing his points total of 106 seems more reasonable.
Related: MAPLE LEAFS RANDOM THOUGHTS: WHAT TO DO WITH ALEX KERFOOT?
Greater Contributions from Matthews’ Linemates
To reach a higher point total, Matthews would have to depend upon his partners to score more. He’s centring Mitch Marner on the right wing and Michael Bunting on the left wing. Last season, Marner seemed to hit a new notch. After he returned from COVID, he came back looking more to score than simply to pass to Matthews. That improved the line even more because the change in how Marner played changed the way that line had to be defended.
Bunting did not have a full season with the first line but took off when Nick Ritchie was moved out and he was moved in. Adding Michael Bunting to that first line now seems like a stroke of genius. Bunting fits well as Matthews’ left-winger. His addition created one of the top lines in the NHL.
There’s no reason to think Bunting would play less well this season. He’s extremely hard-working, has an iron will to succeed, and is growing in his experience. The three could evolve together into something even more special than last season.
Predictions for Next Season?
As noted earlier, I think it will be tough for Matthews to score 60 goals again. But he certainly has the skill to do so. Unless he’s injured again, Matthews should be able to score 41 goals. Even given his youth, that’s all he needs (41 goals) this coming season to move into fifth place on the Maple Leafs’ all-time franchise goal-scoring list.
He’s also likely to be able to hit 81 points on the season. That’s what it will take for him to move into the Maple Leafs’ top ten for all-time point-scorers. If Matthews can reach both of these marks, he’ll (once again this season like he did last season) pass Rick Vaive in both categories.
He’s on his way toward Maple Leafs’ greatness. Interestingly, Matthews can reach these milestones just one season after breaking Vaive’s Toronto goal-scoring record of 54 goals.
Related: Would Free Agent Sam Gagner Be a Good Fit with the Maple Leafs?