By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Boston Bruins kick off the 2016-17 season in a precarious spot in the Atlantic Division. On paper, the B’s don’t look like an appreciably better team than any other in the division, except maybe Buffalo or Montreal. And it doesn’t help that a franchise player just burst into their division like a meteorite.
So that begs the question: Who on the Bruins is going to cover Auston Matthews?
The 19-year-old showed why he was the consensus No. 1 overall pick for the Toronto Maple Leafs in his NHL debut Wednesday night, scoring four goals. He became the first player in NHL history to score four times in his debut. Three of his four goals weren’t exactly hard to pull off, as the Ottawa Senators blew their coverage on him in front of the net, but he did show his off-the-charts instincts and knack for finding open ice – not to mention, his howitzer of a shot.
It was Matthews’ second goal of the night, however, that will make your jaw drop. Watch as Matthews knocks the puck out of mid-air, sneaks it through the legs of the Sens’ Mike Hoffman, bats it into the offensive zone, pickpockets two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson, then snaps the puck past Frederik Andersen for the score:
Good luck to all NHL defenses.
There was one downside to Matthews’ debut – he blew his coverage on the Sens’ Kyle Turris on the game-winning goal in overtime – but if not for Matthews netting four goals, the Leafs would have gotten blown out anyway.
The Bruins enter the 2016-17 season with serious question marks on the defense, at least as many as they did last season. Zdeno Chara in his prime could handle a player like Matthews, but he may not have enough in his skates to keep up with him now. Brandon Carlo has the size and young, fresh legs, but now you’re talking about a second-round pick going against a No. 1 overall pick who is supposed to be in the same class as Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby. Their best hope is that newcomer David Backes can overpower Matthews with his physicality.
And considering that Matthews landed in Toronto, one of the biggest hockey markets in the world, there’s little reason to believe the Leafs won’t reward the rookie wunderkind with a lucrative long-term deal sooner rather than later, which could keep him in the Atlantic Division and in the Bruins’ faces for the next decade.
The Bruins go to Toronto to face the Maple Leafs Saturday night, so you’ll quickly find out how they will be able to handle Matthews, if at all.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.