Mark Matthews has done everything expected of a first overall pick in his rookie season.
Living up to the hype is one thing. But most importantly, he’s lived up to the expectations he put on himself heading into his first year with the Edmonton Rush.
“I was a little bit under the gun to perform without ever playing a game in the league,” said Matthews. “But I think I’ve lived up to all the expectations. I’ve got into every game and been able to contribute.”
Contribute might be a fair-sized understatement.
The former Denver University star currently sits fifth overall in the NLL with 37 goals, and with one more tally, will establish a new single-season record for the Rush franchise breaking the mark set in 2007 by future Hall of Famer Chris Gill.
Matthews is second on the Rush in scoring with 67 points and third in assists with 30. His scoring prowess has made him the runaway leader amongst NLL rookies in goals, assists, and points, and he is the front-runner, if not sure-thing shoe-in, to win the league’s Rookie of the Year award.
High hopes have been met.
“He’s come in as a rookie and made an impact,” said Rush general manager and head coach Derek Keenan. “Having the opportunity to break the team record for goals is great. He hasn’t filled the net a lot lately but he’s contributed in a lot of other ways recently. He got a bunch of assists last weekend (one goal and four assists against Rochester).
“He’s got a lot of good people around him and he’s benefitted from that. He’s continued to develop and he’s having a great season.”
When he made the first overall pick at the 2012 NLL Entry Draft, Keenan knew much more about Matthews than statistical information. He had previously coached the Oshawa, Ontario, product in junior with the perennial powerhouse Whitby Warriors. The six-foot-four, 230-pound forward was one of the most highly-regarded offensive talents available for the draft over the past 15 years.
Matthews finished his four-year career at Denver holding school records for points (216) and goals (155), and completed his collegiate career on a 45-game point scoring streak.
He was expected to spark the anemic Rush offense from a year ago and that mission has been accomplished with a franchise record 192 goals leading into the regular-season finale on Saturday against Calgary.
“He’s got all the tools,” said Keenan. “He shoots the ball a hundred miles an hour. He passes well, sees the floor, good on the power play. He can shoot accurately from outside and he can finish on the inside.
“He’s a playmaker…he can flat-out make plays. He’s got all the attributes that will make him a very good player.”
With a win over Calgary, the Rush would clinch the top seed heading into the playoffs, giving Edmonton its first home-turf playoff game in history, a good shot at repeating as West Division champs, and a second straight appearance in the Champion’s Cup final.
A long playoff drive at Rexall Place and a league title would be a perfect cap to Matthews’ outstanding rookie season.
“It’s going to be just like a playoff game and we want the win to be first overall in the league,” said Matthews. It’s as special to me as it is to everyone.”