NHL legend claims to have predicted Auston Matthews' big year

Dean Chaudhry
April 15, 2024  (6:42 PM)

Matthews surveilling the ice before a face-off on the road against Nashville
Photo credit: Mike Brehm - USA Today Sports

It's almost an unfathomable thought that Auston Matthews is just one tally away from the 70-goal mark, however Hall-of-Fame legend Phil Esposito knew from the moment he made his NHL debut that we were about to witness something special.

The NHL has changed considerably over the years and the league has done almost everything in their power to make sure that the goals keep on coming. After years where the Art Ross winner would earn the honours with just 80-90 points or where the Rocket Richard winner needed just 45 goals to lead the league, we have come a long way with Auston Matthews nearing a historic achievement.
No player since 1992-93 has scored more than 70+ goals and the last two players to do it were Alexander Mogilny and Teemu Selanne with 76 apiece. On top of the fact that 70 goals has been a near impossible to record in recent years, Matthews has also now scored the most goals in a single season during the salary cap era, surpassing Alexander Ovechkin's 65 from the 2007-08 season.
After scoring 60 goals back in 2020-21 for the first time since Steven Stamkos' 60 from the 2011-12 campaign, Matthews has taken his game to a whole new level, which is almost absurd to think about. During his MVP-winning season, Matthews scored 60 goals and 106 points in just 73 games with a league-leading 44 even-strength goals and 348 shots. This year he reached the 60-goal mark in his 72nd game of the season, has 107 points with 2 games remaining, has a league-leading 51 even-strength goals, and has fired 352 shots on net while carrying a career-high 19.6 shooting percentage. He is essentially scoring a goal for every 5 shots he registers on net.
To dive even further, Matthews has 40 goals in his last 45 games, 27 goals in his last 29 games, and 14 goals in his last 13 games - all the while staying at his seasonal shooting percentage of 19.6%. He has gone only 34 games without a goal this season, 22 games without a point, and since January 16th - a span of 39 games - he has been held without a goal in just 12 games and without a point in 6 games.
His season has been under a gigantic microscope and limelight especially once he crossed the 60-goal plateau. With all the media attention it has garnered, Matthews has continued to fire at will and has consistently found the back of the net on a near game-by-game basis. He is currently riding an 8-game goal-streak with 10 tallies to his name.
Matthews' record-breaking season has also been recognized by Hall-of-Famer Phil Esposito and when asked about whether or not he is surprised, considering how much the game has changed, his response was quite complimentary:
"It does not surprise me with Auston Matthews. When he first got in the league, I told people here in Tampa, I remember talking to Bobby Taylor about it who did all the broadcasting here for years, 'Chief, that kid is gonna score 70 goals some year in this league'. He is a natural, Auston Matthews is a natural, he knows where to go, he knows how to get himself in position, and he's got a fantastic shot. It's not so much the slap-shot, the one-timers, it's the way he releases the puck, it freezes goalies.

I can't tell you how many days and hours I spent on the ice with my brother Tony, him with the pads on and me coming in and shooting on him. He would stand in certain locales and I would try to hit spots. From the moment I saw this guy play, I said to myself, this kid is a natural, and he's gonna score 70 goals some day. I told people around Tampa Bay here and they all looked at me like 'yeah, sure, I don't know if anyone's ever going to score 70, not in this game the way it is today.' Well I think it's more conducive today except for the equipment and now everybody blocks shots and back then you didn't block shots unless it was a stinking accident, that's for sure."

Esposito would know a thing or two about scoring goals, considering he has 717 to his name throughout his 18-year career that spanned 1,282 games with the Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins, and the New York Rangers. In a 5-year span between 1970-71 and 1974-75, Esposito scored 326 goals in 389 games, including finishes of 61, 66, 68, and 76. He was the first player to ever score 70 goals in a single season and is just one of 8 players in the history of the NHL that has surpassed to reach that mark so getting a compliment like that should surely make Matthews feel some type of way.
Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs have two games remaining in the regular season schedule with their first pit stop being a road game against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday before a tilt against the Tampa Bay Lightning on the following night. Surely everyone between the player, the team, and the fans would love to see Matthews get to 70 as soon as possible so we can ease the spotlight and the pressure from the 26-year-old centreman.
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NHL legend claims to have predicted Auston Matthews' big year

Will Auston Matthews eventually eclipse Alex Ovechkin as the best goal-scorer?

Yes, he's on par with all of his numbers18165.6 %
Tough to say this early in his career9534.4 %
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