This nineteen year old is pretty special. He’s already a whopping 6’3″ and 216lbs. (Honestly – what do they feed hockey players?). Rather than playing in North America, he decided to go pro the season leading up to the draft in Switzerland where he played alongside – and against – real men. With Zurich, Matthews posted 46 points last season. The Maple Leafs won the draft lottery and selected Matthews first overall in the 2016 draft then he was named to the Team North America roster for the World Cup of Hockey before he’d even played a single NHL game. Even in such a short tournament, up against the very best of the best, he managed three points.
Not satisfied with that, Auston Matthews set an NHL record on his debut. In his first ever NHL game he scored four goals. No player has done that on their debut in the NHL’s history. Players round the league posted their shock and amazement on twitter. But in the most Maple Leafs way, the team still lost the game 5-4 to Ottawa.
Besides his obscene talents, there’s a few other reasons why Matthews should be celebrated.
1) He is the highest drafted Latino in NHL history. Although he is white passing, Auston’s mother, Ema, comes from Mexico, making him Latino. It’s a big deal because the league has historically been white. Even now, only a small percentage of players are non-white. Without delving too deeply, this is tied into the historical contexts of access to hockey and money. Just take my word that it’s a big deal. Just like when Yakupov became the highest drafted Muslim and Tatar.
2) He grew up in a family that has no ties to hockey. His father’s side played baseball, not a whiff of hockey. They had no idea how talented their son was until people started to say “hey, this kid is gonna go far!” then they had to improve their own knowledge to best help their son.
3) Not only did he grow up with a non-hockey family, he also grew up in a non-traditional hockey state. Born in California, he grew up in Arizona – the freakin’ desert. Legend has it, his family took him to a Coyotes game and he was transfixed by the Zamboni. Nonetheless, getting ice time in the desert is hard and his family had to put in a lot of work to get him as much ice time as they could. Well, looks like it’s paid off!
4) Bucking the trend of other players, Auston’s hockey idol is Anze Kopitar – a European player. Not just European, he is from Slovenia, a country which has had a very low representation in the NHL across the years. Whilst that’s not a huge fact, it’s still kind of cool that he said nah to the typical USA/Canada answer.