It’s been quite the start of the campaign for rookies league-wide. There was Auston Matthews’ four-goal debut, Patrik Laine’s two-point night that helped spark the Winnipeg Jets’ comeback victory and Jesse Puljujarvi got on the board in his first career NHL game.
But it was Florida Panthers rookie blueliner Mike Matheson, 22, who may have had the most impressive single-play showing in his first game of the 2016-17 season, showcasing defensive acumen, raw physical strength and a little bit of offensive flash all in the span of one applause-inducing, 12-second span.
Matheson’s outstanding play started after he had carried the puck deep into the New Jersey zone before losing the puck along the boards to Devils defenseman Damon Severson, but as Severson went to start up ice, Matheson took over.
First, he stripped the puck off of Severson behind, and once the Devils rearguard recovered, Matheson had taken the puck off of his stick again. He followed that up by literally shoving Severson to the ice, scooping the puck up and making a picture-perfect backhand pass to Aleksander Barkov, who scored into the nearly empty net as New Jersey goaltender Cory Schneider was left wondering what had happened:
What makes the play that much better is that it came at the tail end of a nearly minute-long shift in overtime, one which had seen Matheson take a few chances at the Devils’ net before setting up the winner.
All told, Matheson skated more than 22 minutes in his first game of the campaign, and it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Matheson is turning heads early on in the season on this kind of stage.
In the three games of action Matheson saw during 2015-16, he averaged 17:32 per game and it was clear he had the ability to play in the NHL. He further proved that at the World Championship, though, as he netted two goals and six points in 10 games, took home top defenseman honors, was selected to the all-star team and earned a gold medal with Team Canada.
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