Rick Zamperin: Is Auston Matthews the next Wendel Clark?

Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews (34) battles for the loose puck with Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) during first-period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

They are two players from two very different eras who come from different countries and play different styles of hockey.

But the differences between Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews and former Leafs star Wendel Clark might just end there.

Matthews and Clark share a plethora of similarities — some great and some not so much.

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Matthews — born in California and raised in Arizona — and Saskatchewan native Clark are the only players to have been taken No. 1 overall by Toronto in the NHL entry draft, Auston in 2016 and Wendel in 1985.

Both led the Leafs in goals scored in their rookie season, Matthews with 40 in 2016-17 and Clark with 34 in 1985-86, and both are adored by Leafs fans.

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Now in his third NHL season, Matthews is drawing comparisons to Clark due to his injury history.

Throughout his 18-year NHL career, Clark made it through just one entire season injury-free in 1986-87 — his second year in the league.

After missing 20 games last season with a shoulder injury, back injury and a concussion, the 21-year-old Matthews is out again with another shoulder injury — this time the other one — after taking a hard, clean hit from Winnipeg defenceman Jacob Trouba on Saturday night and is expected to miss at least four weeks or 13 games of action.

Watching Matthews get hurt again and walk to the dressing room on Saturday made me instantly think of the career Clark would have had if he had stayed healthy for most of it.

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For Matthews’ sake, I hope he doesn’t travel down the same path as the former Maple Leafs captain.

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