Is this the season Auston Matthews joins Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid in the Hart Trophy debate?
Emily Kaplan: I was ready to say Matthews is unequivocally the early front-runner for MVP after the Toronto Maple Leafs' dominating 7-2 opening win over the Winnipeg Jets in which the 20-year-old notched three points. Then I stayed up for the late game, and saw McDavid shell out a hat trick. Recency bias is a funny thing. The NHL has long promoted two superstars squaring off as the face of the league, and we've definitely cast our young Batman and Superman. McDavid is a step ahead of Matthews, but the Toronto center is not far behind -- and certainly is in the conversation. Let's see if Matthews can earn more ice time and keep up the pace. But good news for Toronto fans: it's looking like you won't have to worry about a sophomore slump. Oh wait, we're only one game in? Maybe I should cool it on the superlatives.
Chris Peters: Although I still think the other two are the clear favorites this season, Matthews is going to make an honest run at it. As good as he was last season, I think both he and the Leafs are going to be even better this season. He was the first teenage rookie to score 40 or more goals in a debut season since Eric Lindros in 1992-93. Now he has a year of development under his belt, even more familiarity with his linemates and a better overall supporting cast. Matthews and William Nylander should put up big numbers together as Toronto cruises into the playoffs, putting No. 34 right in the thick of the Hart conversation.
Tim Kavanagh: Fair or not, the Hart Trophy has generally been given to a standout player on a great team (or at least a team that rose well above expectations, as McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers did last season). So for Matthews to be in the mix, two boxes must be checked: he must personally have a monster season and the Leafs must take steps forward. I picked the Leafs as Atlantic Division winners this season, so that part won't hold him back. Will he score on the same level as McDavid, Crosby, Jamie Benn and Patrick Kane? That's the part that gives me pause.
Ben Arledge: If McDavid and Crosby stay healthy, they are the clear favorites on paper for the Hart Trophy. However, if there is a player who has the talent to challenge them, it is Matthews. He burst onto the scene with 40 goals last season, and on the Leafs' front line with Nylander, he should be able to hit that mark again -- he's already got one! The big factors will be Toronto's success and his ice time. I picked the Maple Leafs to edge the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens for the top spot in the Atlantic Division, and I think they will make a run in the playoffs, too. The 20-year-old would certainly have a big part in that. His ice time, though, is a real question. Matthews' 17:37 of average ice time last season was 90th among forwards. For perspective, McDavid was fourth (21:07) and Crosby was 14th (19:52). Whether or not coach Mike Babcock sets Matthews loose will play a part in how serious of a MVP candidate Matthews is in his sophomore season. Regardless, look no further than McDavid's performance Wednesday night to see why Matthews has his work cut out catching the Edmonton superstar.
Paul Grant: Matthews is a center, a generational talent and an essential component to the Maple Leafs' success this season (and has seven points in his first two NHL opening-night games). But Hart candidate? Not so fast. The real MVP of that team is Babcock, and Matthews doesn't yet get enough ice time under the coach's system to be considered The Man. The truest interpretation of the award is, essentially, judging how a team would do without the player in question. Without McDavid, the Oilers are good but not Stanley Cup favorites. Same with Crosby and the Penguins. But the Leafs without Matthews? With all that good, young talent, a strong coach and a reliable goalie, they would still be pretty good.