Toronto Maple Leafs: Auston Matthews Deserves Some Selke Recognition

Feb 10, 2022; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames defenseman Christopher Tanev (8) and Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) battle for the puck during the second period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 10, 2022; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames defenseman Christopher Tanev (8) and Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) battle for the puck during the second period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports /
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Auston Matthews so often is in conversations for his goal-scoring and offensive prowess, but this season the Toronto Maple Leafs center might deserve some Selke hype.

The offensive game of Auston Matthews, we all know about. He’s topped 60 points for his sixth consecutive season, putting him among some elite company. He’s just hit his 36th goal and is a good shot at another Rocket Richard Trophy.

However, what has gone a little less noticed is the massive improvements to his defensive game and how that’s been helping out the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The typical winner of the Selke Trophy is a first or second-line center seeing plenty of ice-time, generating offense but also getting it done defensively. Past reputation as a defensive forward plays a role, as does seeing penalty-kill time.

Auston Matthews Is the Toronto Maple Leafs Best Defensive Forward

His early seasons, much like any rookie or young player finding his way, were all about offense but as he’s matured he’s showing himself more and more as a very effective two-way player.

Now by a number of measures, Auston Matthews is the best defensive center the Toronto Maple Leafs have and indeed among the best in the league.

He may not tick the penalty killing boxes, though maybe deserves it, like line-mate Mitch Marner and he may have a reputation more so as a goal-scorer than a two-way guy, but statistically you can see his defensive contributions shining through.

Starting with even-strength defensive goals above replacement (EVD) and defensive goals above replacement (DEF). These both attempt to put a number on just how much a player offers to the team defensively, in goals. Auston Matthews is currently at 4.8 for both statistics, with an expected value of 5.1 on both.

This compares very nicely to last year’s Selke winner Aleksander Barkov, who sits at -0.1 EVD and 1.6 DEF. All in all, it’s a defensively down year for the Florida Panthers center.

Also always in conversations around the Selke Trophy is Patrice Bergeron. The Boston Bruins center compares much closer to Matthews, with 4.5 EVD and 5.6 DEF.

It speaks volumes that Auston Matthews can be mentioned, without exaggerating, in the same standing as Bergeron.

Looking further to 5-on-5 expected goals against per 60 minutes (among players above 300 minutes ice-time), Matthews finds himself 32nd in the league at 2.05 xGA/60, though Bergeron tops the league expecting to give up just 1.47 xGA/60.

Barkov doesn’t feature in the top-50 thus far this season, though Toronto Maple Leafs teammate David Kampf ranks just two spots down at 34th.

Corsi (CF%) speaks to a player’s ability to control the puck, measuring shot attempt differentials. In other words, the number of shots attempts for a team when a player is on the ice versus the number they’re giving up.

Once again, Patrice Bergeron is the benchmark and the name that Auston Matthews should really be striving to knock off his perch. He posts an elite 65.23% at even-strength, while Matthews posts an equally impressive though not quite as elite 58.84% to be 10th in the league.

The key area of Matthews’ defensive game needing the most improvement, especially given that once again Patrice Bergeron tops the league in this statistic is the number of high-danger chances given up per 60 minutes (HDCA/60). Matthews is a lowly 103rd on the list, expecting to give up 9.92 HDCA/60.

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Statistics from Evolving Hockey and Natural Stat Trick.

All in all, it’s looking hard to challenge Patrice Bergeron, who seems in-line to claim a record fifth Selke Trophy. However, Matthews certainly deserves some voting recognition.