Austin Matthews, welcome to the NHL record books.
It only took one game for the Toronto Maple Leafs wunderkind to etch his name into history, but becoming the player with a four-goal debut in a 5–4 overtime loss against the Senators in Ottawa on Wednesday night will do that.
"It’s pretty surreal," Matthews said. "I couldn’t believe that was happening out there. It’s really something you can’t write up."
Matthews wasted little time becoming the 12th No. 1 pick to score in his first game and opening the scoring on the 2016–17 season at 8:21 of the first period, banging a puck past Senators goalie Craig Anderson.
Just under six minutes later, he showed off the deft hands, feet and hockey sense that have been tantalizing fans, scouts and NHL front offices for years leading up to the 2016 draft with his second tally of the night, stripping the puck from two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson on his way to the net. In tying the score at two apiece, he became just the second No. 1 pick in history with a two-goal debut, following Alex Ovechkin’s first game with the Washington Capitals in 2005.
"The second one was kind of nice, just trying to stay on the puck," Matthews said. "A lot of my game is competing for 50–50 battles and it was nice to sneak one in there."
Ovechkin, the NHL’s reigning goal scoring champion, is some pretty good company, but Matthews wasn’t done yet. Just 1:25 into the second period, he became just the fourth player in the modern era to have a three-goal debut, joining Derek Stepan (Rangers, Oct. 9, 2010), Fabian Brunnstrom (Stars, Oct. 15, 2008) and Real Cloutier (Nordiques, Oct. 10, 1979). Matthews, however, got his quicker than all of them.
But the Scottsdale, Ariz., native took things a step further, depositing a beautiful saucer pass from fellow Leafs rookie William Nylander behind Anderson, making him the first player with a four-goal debut and the third-youngest player to score four times in a game. It's safe to say the performance made an impression on his teammates.
"Everybody was just kind of like, ‘What’s going on here?’" Matthews said. "You don’t really draw it up like that."
"I’ve never seen anything like it," Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. "When you see that second goal he scored, not many guys do that. We were all part of history. From my perspective, since I’ve been the Leafs coach, that’s been the best night I’ve had here by 10 miles, not even close."
Despite the history, however, Matthews took the blame for Kyle Turris’s overtime strike that gave Toronto the loss.
"I guess more of an ideal start to your season, I guess, individually. That last play was 100% my fault, obviously we came here to win and we didn’t get that done. A good learning point for myself and the team."
Consider Ottawa coach Guy Boucher among those that know Matthews will put the lessons to good use. Boucher coached against him last season in the Swiss Elite League.
"He's the real deal," Boucher said. "I told everybody and I saw it firsthand last year so I'm not surprised. He's the total package. He played against men last year and he's playing against men now, so I'm not surprised."
Matthews certainly set the bar high just one game into his NHL career, and while it’s important to temper expectations for a 19-year-old rookie, it was certainly a memorable way to start things off—even making his mom cry in the stands.
Greatest rookie debut performances in sports history
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs — Oct. 12, 2016
Toronto's first-round pick Auston Matthews had sky-high expectations entering the 2016 season, and man did he live up to them, becoming the first NHLer to score four goals in his debut, though his Maple Leafs fell to the Senators 5-4 in overtime.
Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies — April 4, 2016
Facing Zack Greinke, who led the NL in ERA the year before, Story set an MLB record by homering in his first two career at bats on Opening Day.
Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans — Sept. 13, 2015
In his first game ever, which also happened to be against the quarterback that was taken one pick before him in the draft (that'd be the Bucs' Jameis Winston), Mariota became the first rookie in NFL history to throw four touchdowns in the first half. He was 10 of 13 passes for 175 yards and four touchdowns at the end of the first half(!!), and finished the game 13 of 16 for 209 yards. You read that right--he finished with more touchdowns than incompletions.
Steven Matz, New York Mets — June 28, 2015
In an astonishing and storybook debut, Matz became the only major league pitcher and the first player in franchise history (at any position!) to drive in four runs in his first career game, while leading the Mets to a 7-2 victory over the Reds. He did also pitch 7 2/3 innings, allowing just two runs and striking out six.
Troy Grosenick, San Jose Sharks — Nov. 16, 2014
Sharks goalie Troy Grosenick set an NHL record for saves in an NHL debut shutout, stopping 45 shots from the Hurricanes in a 2–0 win.
Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers — Oct. 30, 2013
The former No. 11 pick finished with a video game stat-line of 22 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds and nine steals against LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins — Sept. 9, 2012
Ah, the future once looked so bright. Griffin's debut was a gem: he went 19 of 26 for 320 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, and rushed for 42 yards on nine carries. Oh, and his first NFL touchdown came on one play on his second drive of the game—an 88-yard throw to Pierre Garcon. The rookie outdid Drew Brees, and led the Redskins to a 40–32 win over the Saints becoming the first QB to throw for more than 300 yards in a winning debut (Cam's 422-yard debut was a loss).
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers — Sept. 11, 2011
The future league MVP threw for 422 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for one TD in his NFL debut. Despite his herculean effort, the Panthers lost 28-21 to the Cardinals.
Derek Stepan, New York Rangers — Oct. 9, 2010
New York Rangers rookie Derek Stepan scored three times against the Sabres in a 6–3 win
Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals — June 8, 2010
In one of the most hyped debuts ever, the former No. 1 pick struck out 14 batters over seven innings while allowing just two runs against the Pirates.
Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs — May 7, 2010
The first MLB player born in the 1990s, Castro homered and hit a bases-loaded triple against the Reds, setting the record for most RBIs in a debut with six.
Fabian Brunnstrom, Dallas Stars — Oct. 15, 2008
Fabian Brunnstrom’s first NHL game was one to remember, as he potted three goals against the Predators in a 6-4 Stars’ win
LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers — Oct. 29, 2003
LeBron's first game was one of the most anticipated rookie debuts in NBA history. The proclaimed "Chosen One" recorded a monster stat line of 25 points, nine assists, six rebounds and four steals.
Anquan Boldin, Arizona Cardinals — Sept. 7, 2003
This is considered one of the greatest NFL debuts at any position. The Cardinals receiver finished with 10 catches, 217(!) yards and two touchdowns in Arizona's loss to the Lions.
Allen Iverson, Philadelphia 76ers — Nov. 1, 1996
Allen Iverson took the NBA by storm as soon as he stepped on the floor as a Sixer. The recent hall of fame inductee scored 30 points and dished out 6 assists against the Milwaukee Bucks.
J.R. Richard, Houston Astros — Sept. 5, 1971
The 21-year-old fireballer threw a complete game against the Giants, allowing two earned runs and tying the MLB record with 17 strikeouts in his first career start.
Fran Tarkenton, Minnesota Vikings — Sept. 17, 1961
The Vikings offense was struggling against the Bears, and so in the second quarter, veteran QB George Shaw was benched for a rookie named Fran Tarkenton. Thus began a Hall of Fame career. Tarkenton threw a touchdown pass on his first drive, and finished the game 17/23 for 250 yards, three passing TDs and a rushing TD. The Vikings beat the Bears 37–13.
Juan Marichal, San Francisco Giants — July 19, 1960
Marichal dominated the Phillies, carrying a perfect game into the 7th and a no-hitter into the 8th. He ultimately tossed a one-hit shutout, striking out 12 while walking just one.
Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia Warriors — Oct. 24, 1959
Wilt Chamberlain recorded a ridiculous 43 point and 28 rebound effort in his NBA debut for the Philadelphia Warriors.
Willie McCovey, San Francisco Giants — July 30, 1959
McCovey started his career with a bang, going 4 for 4 with two triples and 2 RBIs against future Hall-of-Famer Robin Roberts.
"Those were tears of joy," Ema Matthews told Sportsnet. "I feel very excited. This is what Auston has been dreaming since he was 6, playing right here in the NHL, so he's doing it. So I'm very excited, very happy for him."
"She’s very emotional when it comes to this kind of stuff," Matthews said. "She’s been a huge part, along with my dad, in helping me get there, and I’m glad she could share the moment with me."
While Maple Leafs fans were glad to get a glimpse of his NHL arrival, they'll get an up-close look on Saturday, when the team faces its Atlantic Division rival Boston Bruins at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.