Matthews, McDavid riding NHL's fascinating youth wave
Auston Matthews naturally slowed down a bit after scoring four goals in his phenomenal NHL debut.
The Maple Leafs' first overall pick is still on top of a league-wide youth wave that's only picking up speed.
From Toronto to Arizona, teenagers and rookies had a major impact throughout hockey during the first month of the season.
As November began, 19-year-old Edmonton captain Connor McDavid was tied for the league lead in points, while Matthews and 18-year-old Winnipeg sensation Patrik Laine both had a share of the league's goal-scoring lead. Toronto forward William Nylander was similarly prolific, winning the NHL's rookie of the month award.
Two straight bumper crops of youngsters are changing the game with precocious speed and skill. They're also bringing hope to frustrated fan bases across the continent - particularly north of the border, where some of the best talent is taking flight.
''The generation that's taking over is a new one, in my opinion,'' said Oilers coach Todd McLellan, who coached McDavid, Matthews and several other top youngsters at the World Cup of Hockey. ''They haven't played under the old clutch-and-grab rules. They never were exposed to it. They've always played free hockey. ... They're fast, and they like playing that way.''
Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr were in attendance when McDavid and Matthews had their first head-to-head meeting Tuesday night in the biggest showcase yet for the league's young stars. While neither No. 1 pick scored in Toronto's 3-2 overtime win over Edmonton, it's clear they could be fighting for Art Ross trophies and Stanley Cup titles for years to come.
''It's not just Auston, and it's not just Connor,'' Gretzky told reporters in Toronto. ''There's some good young players on both teams, and expectations go up with that.''
Indeed, the 2015-16 campaign produced a banner crew of rookies league-wide, including McDavid, Buffalo's Jack Eichel and Philadelphia defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere. Chicago left wing Artemi Panarin, who turned 25 this week, scored 77 points in 80 games to beat out McDavid for the Calder Trophy.
The new group appears to be equally promising. Matthews, Laine and Nylander appear to be ready for immediate stardom, while several other rookies have stepped into big roles.
But for clear star potential, nobody tops McDavid and Matthews, who could be at the start of parallel career paths with similarities to the roads traveled by Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, who broke into the NHL together as No. 1 picks in 2005.
McDavid is no longer a rookie despite missing nearly half of last season with a broken collarbone, but he's still a teenager until January. Matthews just turned 19 after spending last year playing pro hockey in Switzerland, and he spent plenty of time with McDavid at the World Cup.
''He's a good guy,'' McDavid said of Matthews. ''I get along with him. I definitely don't consider him a rival. ... He's definitely not a guy that needs advice. He's got a good head on his shoulders, and he's got a lot of confidence as well, so you don't really need to tell him anything.''
Signs of this youth explosion were obvious in September, when that 23-and-under Team North America captivated the World Cup with its up-tempo, exciting brand of play.
''It was a fun time playing with a bunch of guys who were kind of your age and really competing hard,'' Matthews said.
While McDavid has the young Oilers off to a promising start, no city has more blue-chip talent than Toronto, the epicenter of hockey and the home of the perennially frustrating Maple Leafs.
Although the standings still don't look great, coach Mike Babcock is giving significant playing time to six rookies - including two of the highest-scoring newcomers in the game.
Nylander, who had four goals and seven assists in his first nine NHL games, got a jump-start on this fall with 22 games for the Leafs last season. Matthews is probably the most tantalizing player in the sport, and he had the top-selling jersey in the NHL's online store last month.
Three more Toronto rookies - defenseman Nikita Zaitsev and forwards Mitch Marner and Connor Brown - already look comfortable in the league. The gifted Marner would be the most talked-about player in Toronto if it wasn't for his two teammates lighting up scoreboards ahead of him.
Laine was a 7-year-old Finnish kid when Ovechkin broke in with Washington, and he grew up idolizing the Russian star. The No. 2 overall pick last summer is off to a fantastic start in North America, scoring six goals in his first nine games with ferocity and flair.
A surprising name was right behind Laine early on the rookie scoring lists: Travis Konecny, the smallish first-round pick who made the Flyers' opening-night roster along with teenage Russian defenseman Ivan Provorov. Both rookies have stuck in Philadelphia, and Konecny had seven points in his first 10 games.
''You're playing against men out there,'' Konecny said. ''It's definitely a little bit of an adjustment, but I'm slowly getting used to it. The first few games, I felt like there was no time for me on the ice, but I've been making room for myself and allowing myself to make more plays.''
BY THE NUMBERS
A remarkable nine rookies averaged at least 0.67 points per game while playing in at least five games in October. Some of the kids making a major impact include:
- Jimmy Vesey, the New York Rangers forward who signed as a free agent out of Harvard and immediately backed up his Hobey Baker Award credentials with five goals in October.
- Michael Matheson, the 22-year-old Florida Panthers defenseman taking key roles on both ends.
- Jakob Chychrun, the 18-year-old Florida native getting a regular role on the Arizona Coyotes' blue line.
- Zach Werenski, the 19-year-old Blue Jackets defenseman with six points in his first seven NHL games - and surviving as a Michigan man in Columbus.
Artem Anisimov has a career-high point streak of eight games after getting a goal and an assist in Chicago's 5-1 win over Calgary on Tuesday night.
The Los Angeles Kings haven't scored a goal in three straight games after their 4-0 trouncing by Anaheim in the Freeway Faceoff on Tuesday night.
Goals, Anisimov (Chicago) and Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay), 7; Points, Anisimov, 13; Time on ice, Dustin Byfuglien (Winnipeg), 28:49; Wins, Cam Talbot (Edmonton), 7.
GAME OF THE WEEK
The rematch of the Stanley Cup Final is Saturday night when Pittsburgh visits San Jose at the Shark Tank. Both conference champions are off to strong starts again this fall.
AP sports writers Dan Gelston and Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.