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Auston Matthews has unforgettable debut

Maple Leafs rookie makes it look easy with four goals in first NHL game

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

The tweet came from a Stanley Cup and Hart Trophy winner, from someone who knows what it's like to dominate in the NHL, to do amazing things on the big stage.

It was spot on.

Martin St. Louis, watching Auston Matthews' historic NHL debut from his home in Connecticut, took to Twitter shortly after the Toronto Maple Leafs rookie scored his fourth goal Wednesday.

"Feels like I'm watching mite hockey where there's that one kid who's just way better than everyone else," St. Louis wrote. "Congrats @AM34 #easygame."

Video: TOR@OTT: Matthews bursts onto scene with four goals

It's not an easy game. At least, it's not supposed to be.

St. Louis knows that better than anyone considering he had to overcome long odds because of his height (5-foot-8) just to get into the NHL before he eventually became the Tampa Bay Lightning's all-time leading scorer and a potential future Hockey Hall of Fame inductee with 1,033 points in 1,134 games.

However, watching Matthews in his debut against the Ottawa Senators, a 5-4 overtime loss for Toronto, made you wonder if to him, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, it really easy to dominate, even at the NHL level.

Matthews became the first player in the modern era of the NHL (starting in 1943-44) to score four goals in his debut. He became the third-youngest player in NHL history to score four goals behind Bobby Carpenter (1981-82) and Jack Hamilton (1943-44), who each did it at 18.

Video: Breaking down Auston Matthews' historic night

Matthews turned 19 on Sept. 17.

"He just looked better than everyone on the ice," St. Louis wrote in a text message to NHL.com after the game. "He's playing the game with feel. Fun to watch."

For example, there was Matthews' second goal, when he beat six Senators and a linesman on one play to score at 14:18 of the first period. No assists were necessary. He did it all himself.

Matthews knocked the puck out of the air at the offensive blue line, put it through right wing Mark Stone's legs, then left wing Mike Hoffman's legs, before eluding center Kyle Turris as he took it to the left-wing wall.

He chipped it in, burst down the wall, around Hoffman and past the linesman. Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson thought he had the puck. Nope. Matthews stripped it from him and carried it through the bottom of the left circle, eluding diving defenseman Marc Methot before beating goalie Craig Anderson with a low shot from a tough angle.

Video: TOR@OTT: Matthews discusses record-setting debut

Matthews scored twice more after that magnificent goal, showing his hockey sense, defensive acumen and skill on each of them.

With Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly taking the puck down the left-wing wall, Matthews smartly stopped in the right circle, giving himself space and making himself an option for Rielly, who took the puck into the corner.

The pass came to Matthews, who beat Anderson with a wrist shot for his third goal.

That's when the television cameras cut to his mother, Ema, who looked stunned, like even she couldn't believe what her boy was doing.

Honestly, how could she? Nobody could. Four players before him had a hat trick in their NHL debuts.

Video: TOR@OTT: Matthews' parents on his NHL debut

"It's not something you can write up," Matthews said. "It was pretty special having my parents here for them to share the moment with me."

Matthews gave himself a chance to score his fourth goal with a hard backcheck that disrupted Ottawa forward Bobby Ryan's shot. The puck went wide, Toronto defenseman Jake Gardiner flipped it out of the zone, setting Matthews and William Nylander off on a 2-on-1.

Matthews finished it, making it look easy again.

"I know it's just one game but when he had the puck I was just waiting for something good to happen," St. Louis also wrote. "And after I saw he scored one early, I bought the NHL package so I could watch the game from Connecticut."

That's what Matthews can do for the NHL. He can sell the game, sell the League, and help make the Maple Leafs competitive again. He did it all in his debut. He was magnificent. It was must-see stuff.

But St. Louis made another cogent point; it is one game, and the odds of Matthews having another like it this season are slim.

Tweet from @mstlouis_26: Feels like I'm watching mite hockey where there's that one kid who's just way better than everyone else. Congrats @AM34 #easygame

Including Matthews, there are 23 active players in the NHL who have at least one four-goal game in their careers. Among them, Alex Ovechkin (3), Marian Gaborik (2) and David Backes (2) have multiple four-goal games.

Jaromir Jagr, who is third all-time with 749 goals, has one four-goal game in his career, which spans 1,629 regular season games.

So, yes, Matthews set the bar so incredibly high for himself Wednesday that eclipsing it will be near impossible.

That's not a bad thing, though. The elite players are constantly setting the bar high for themselves and excelling under the weight of it all. That's what makes them elite.

Matthews was elite in his debut. He was historic.

It's foolish to think it will always be like this for him, but if what we all saw Wednesday is an indication, Matthews will be the best player on the ice more often than not, making a hard game in a hard league look easy.

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