Rick Zamperin: Auston Matthews on the cusp of superstardom

Entering his third season in the National Hockey League, Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs is already considered a star player.

In 144 career games, the 21-year-old Maple Leafs’ centre has scored 74 goals and amassed 132 points.

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But is Matthews a superstar?

Is he the best player on the Maple Leafs? Yes. Even with the arrival of prized free agent John Tavares, I think Matthews is a better all-around talent, and that’s saying a lot because Tavares is a great player in his own right.

Matthews missed 20 games last season with injuries (shoulder, back and concussion) yet was a point-a-game player with 63 points in 62 games.

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But he didn’t perform well in Toronto’s first-round playoff loss against the Boston Bruins last spring where he was limited to one goal and one assist in seven games.

When you compare Toronto’s No. 1 overall draft pick in 2016 to the NHL’s elite of the elite, he falls just short of the lofty standards that have been set by superstar players like Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid.

Crosby has three Stanley Cup rings and a number of awards and McDavid has a Hart and two Art Ross Trophies.

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Matthews doesn’t have a ring, an MVP award, or scoring title. But he has the talent — and the supporting cast — to potentially get one, two, or all three of them.

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During training camp over the weekend, Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said Matthews is “skating at another level,” and we’ll get to see it for ourselves when Toronto takes on the Ottawa Senators in their preseason opener Tuesday night in Lucan, Ont.

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Heading into the final year of his entry-level contract, Matthews seems poised to take his game to another level, perhaps, superstar status.

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