To mark the quarter pole of the 2016-17 season, NHL.com is running its third installment of the Trophy Tracker series this week. Today, we look at the race for the Calder Trophy.
Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews didn't enter his rookie season with a specific number of goals or points in mind.
As long as his overall game was improving each day and he was earning the respect of his teammates and coaches, that was good enough.
So far, mission accomplished. Matthews is the favorite to win the Calder Trophy as the top rookie in the NHL according to a panel of 13 writers for NHL.com.
Matthews has 30 goals, tied for second in the League with Winnipeg Jets rookie right wing Patrik Laine and Los Angeles Kings center Jeff Carter, and is the third rookie in Maple Leafs history to score 30 in a season, joining Wendel Clark (34 in 1985-86) and Daniel Marois (31 in 1988-89).
Chosen with the No. 1 and No. 2 picks, respectively, in the 2016 NHL Draft, Matthews and Laine are the first top two picks to each score 30 goals the following season since the draft was introduced in 1963. Matthews and Laine are tied for the rookie scoring lead with 54 points apiece and Matthews leads all rookies with 217 shots on goal in 61 games (3.55 shots per game).
Matthews is also fourth on the Maple Leafs with a plus-77 SAT, an enhanced statistic that measures the number of shots for, minus shots against, when a player is on the ice. The Maple Leafs have been responsible for 52.17 percent of all shot attempts whenever Matthews has been on the ice.
Video: MTL@TOR: Matthews tallies his 30th goal of the season
"I felt I could make an impact offensively so I wouldn't say I'm surprised with how my season has gone," Matthews said. "I just focus on being the best player I can be because I can't control what's going on around me. What I can control is my work ethic; how hard I work in practice and games to be the best player I can be to help this team win."
Toronto coach Mike Babcock has seen, firsthand, his improvement and the impact the 19-year-old has had as a result.
"I knew he was an elite player," Babcock said. "I never spent any time thinking about what his stats would be, just that he would help us win. That's what I like about him: He helps you win. He plays right. He's getting better every day. He's going to be our No. 1 center here, if he's not already, in no time. He'll be the guy who's driving our franchise."
Matthews has spent much of the season as the third-line center between rookies Zach Hyman and Connor Brown or William Nylander. He's won 46 percent of his faceoffs (387-of-842), fifth among Toronto forwards with at least 100 taken.
Video: MTL@TOR: Matthews beats Price with bouncing puck
Matthews had 61 points, including nine first-place votes. Laine was second with 54 points (four first-place votes). Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski was third with 28 points. Forward Mitchell Marner of the Maple Leafs and goaltender Matt Murray of the Pittsburgh Penguins finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
In addition to Matthews and Marner, Nylander also received two points in the Calder voting, giving the Maple Leafs three rookies among the top seven picks.
Voting totals (points awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1- basis): Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs, 61 points; Patrik Laine, Jets, 54 points; Zach Werenski, Blue Jackets, 28 points; Mitchell Marner, Maple Leafs, 22 points; Matthew Murray, Penguins, 17 points; Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames, 11 points; William Nylander, Maple Leafs, 2 points.