Auston Matthews’ four-goal game is a no brainer to top the list of best debuts of 2016.
The NHL first game for Toronto’s Auston Matthews wasn’t just the top debut of 2016, it was a rookie performance for the ages. The key word here is “first.”
The first overall pick in the 2016 draft scored his first NHL goal on his first shot in the first period of his first game. Matthews became the 12th player drafted first overall to score in his first game. As the Oct. 12 game in Ottawa unfolded, Matthews became the first player to score four goals in his NHL debut game. The only thing besmirching the outing was the fact the Maple Leafs lost 5-4 to the Senators in overtime.
Playing on a line with fellow rookies Zach Hyman and William Nylander that game, Matthews opened the scoring for Toronto a few minutes into the game. He added his second goal about six minutes later on a play that saw him get by or around all five Ottawa skaters on the ice. The hat trick goal for Matthew came in the second minute of the second period, while his fourth tally came in the final seconds of the middle frame.
“It was pretty surreal, I couldn’t believe it,” Matthews said. “You don’t really draw it up like that. It was pretty unbelievable.”
While Matthews’ debut easily tops this list of excellent first-game performances in 2016, many other players had opening nights to remember. Here’s a look at them.
• Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets had a goal and assist in his NHL debut, a 5-4 win over the Carolina Hurricanes Oct. 13.
• Zach Werenski of the Columbus Blue Jackets had an assist in a 6-3 loss to the Boston Bruins Oct. 13. Werenski had five shots and played an impressive 20:57.
• Travis Konecny of the Philadelphia Flyers had two assists in a 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings Oct. 14. Konecny also had three shots.
• Brandon Carlo of Boston had one assist and was a dominating plus-5 in a 6-3 win over Columbus Oct. 13. Carlo played 17:48.
• Pavel Zacha of the New Jersey Devils had an excellent NHL debut dating back to last season. He had two assists and was a plus-4 in a 5-1 win over Toronto April 9. Zacha also had three shots.
• Alan Quine of the New York Islanders scored a shorthanded goal and had three shots in a 4-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres April 9. Quine played 18:17.
• Jake Guentzel of the Pittsburgh Penguins scored a pair of goals, the only two of the night for his team, in a 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers Nov. 21. Guentzel had five shots and played 15:38.
• Julius Honka of the Dallas Stars had an assist and five shots in a key 3-2 win over the Minnesota Wild Nov. 21. Honda had five shots and played an impressive 21:01.
• Goalie Scott Wedgwood of New Jersey stopped 27 of 28 shots in a 2-1 win over Columbus March 20.
• Goalie Charlie Lindgren of the Montreal Canadiens blocked 26 of 28 shots in a 4-2 win over Carolina April 7.
Many other rookies had solid first-game performances in 2016. They deserve honorable mentions. Timo Meier of San Jose, Samuel Henley of Colorado, Joel Eriksson-Ek of Minnesota, Jesse Puljujarvi of Edmonton and Anthony DeAngelo of Arizona headline a list of players who all scored a goal in their debut game. Also getting points in their first NHL games this calendar year were Pavel Buchnevich of the New York Rangers, Sebastian Aho of Carolina, Christian Dvorak of Arizona, Anthony Beauvillier of the New York Islanders, Tyler Motte of Chicago, Drake Caggiula of Edmonton, Kyle Connor of Winnipeg, Nikita Tryamkin of Vancouver, Charles Hudon of Montreal, Nick Jensen of Detroit and Justin Dowling of Dallas.
Honorable mentions among goalies go to Anthony Stolarz of Philadelphia (stopped 29 of 32 shots in a win) and Antoine Bibeau of Toronto (stopped 26 of 28 shots in a loss).