From the moment he stepped on the ice for his first game as a Maple Leaf, centre Auston Matthews has made an incredible impact on the team and the city of Toronto. And on Tuesday, the 21-year-old ensured he'd continue to be a key member of the franchise for the next five seasons, signing a contract extension worth approximately $58 million.
It was an easy decision for the youngster, whom Toronto selected with the first overall pick in the 2016 NHL entry draft.
"I love playing here," Matthews told reporters Tuesday. "I love the city, my teammates, management, the whole staff from the top to bottom…I don't think there's anything like playing in this city. From our fans, the support we get day in, day out, walking down the street getting recognized, I mean, it's nuts. It's not something I really imagined as a kid growing up in Arizona to play in a market like this. It's definitely something I don't take for granted and I don't think anybody on the team takes for granted."
Matthews' new contract, which kicks in next season, carries an annual cap hit of $11.634 million, giving Leafs GM Kyle Dubas flexibility in his efforts to sign talents such as wingers Mitch Marner and Kasperi Kapanen to new deals. Dubas signed centre John Tavares to a seven-year, $77-million pact last summer, so management had to be delicate when it comes to locking up the remainder of the core.
But there was never any doubt Dubas and the organization would continue to want to work with Matthews, and Tuesday's announcement made it official: Matthews' star is going to continue to ascend, and it will happen with him in a Leafs uniform.
"We made the investment in Auston because he's shown tremendous potential," Dubas said Tuesday. "He's a centre and he scores at an elite rate that few have matched in his first three years in (the NHL)…We know what he's capable of and he's still a very young man. He has a lot of potential we have to help him to reach."
Matthews has appeared in 182 career NHL regular season games, generating 97 goals and 178 points in that span. The Scottsdale, Arizona native won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's Rookie of the Year in 2016-17; in 38 games for the Maple Leafs this season, he has amassed 23 goals and 46 points. And he clearly believes in the direction Dubas and Leafs ownership is steering the franchise.
"We've got a special team, a lot of talented players," Matthews said. "We're doing everything to get to that ultimate goal (of winning a Stanley Cup), and we work every day to accomplish that."
There might be pressure to deliver a championship to a hockey-crazed city like Toronto, but Matthews welcomes it.
"We'll always feel the pressure from fans here, but they want a championship team and we want to give it to them," Matthews said. "This city deserves it."