Shortly after being selected first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2016 NHL Draft, Auston Matthews made an instant impact with both fans and collectors – and remains a hobby favorite to this day after establishing himself as one of the greatest players in franchise history.
After taking the somewhat unconventional route of playing in Switzerland during his draft year, the Arizona native had only a handful of regional cards to collect as he captured the imagination of scouts that declared him to be a generational talent – even though Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers was drawing similar accolades a year earlier. With the Maple Leafs winning the draft lottery, most signs pointed to Matthews being taken over Finnish prospect Patrik Laine and once he was picked, collectors started to buzz about his first NHL-licensed cards.
Before making his debut with Toronto, however, Matthews was chosen to skate for Team North America at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey and Upper Deck received permission to get him into a limited release heading into the tournament which featured an abnormally large headshot. While this card was ultimately forgotten by many, the excitement was reserved for his fully-licensed rookie releases – and the first to come in packs was his Young Guns card in 2016-17 Upper Deck Series One.
This hype was completely justified from the start as Matthews treated the hockey world to one of the greatest debuts in NHL history. As Toronto opened the season against the rival Ottawa Senators on Oct. 12, 2016, he set a record by scoring four goals – but it was not enough to lift his team to victory that night as they fell in overtime.
As the season progressed, there was little debate that Matthews was the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year honors. As mid-season approached, he strung together an eight-game point streak which included a two-goal performance at the 2017 NHL Winter Classic. Ringing in the New Year against the Detroit Red Wings that day, he potted the overtime winner.
Soon after, Matthews was chosen to appear in his first NHL All-Star Game and as the schedule wore on, he set a club record for most goals by a rookie – surpassing Wendel Clark’s standard of 34 which was established in 1985-86. Ultimately, he finished the regular season with 40 tallies and 69 points – but Leafs fans were even happier to see their team return to playoff action. Despite bowing out to the Washington Capitals in six games, there was some consolation as the young superstar would win the Calder Trophy in addition to being named to the NHL All-Rookie Team.
Since that memorable freshman campaign, there have been thousands of cards issued of Matthews, but few can meet the insatiable demand for those which were released back in 2016-17. Already ranking in the top 10 on several lists for the Maple Leafs franchise, he is a true fan favorite and as hope springs eternal for a Stanley Cup championship in Toronto, the interest in his cards could soar even higher if he and his teammates prove successful.
Let’s take a look at some of the best Auston Matthews rookie cards you can add to your collection:
Affordable Rookie Year Options
Upper Deck went into overdrive getting Matthews cards in as many releases as possible during the 2016-17 season and while some are considered true rookie cards, there are plenty of inserts, parallels, and even player-worn memorabilia cards out there which can be had at a decent price.
Other notable Matthews cards from his debut season that are not considered true rookie issues include a Sports Illustrated for Kids card which came in the January/February, 2017 issue. Upper Deck produced a pair for each avenue of that year’s National Hockey Card Day (Canada and United States had different packs and checklists) in the form of regular and Memorable Moments cards – the latter handed out by shop owners to customers rather than pulled from packs. Collectors were also able to pull a Victory Black Rookie card of Matthews on either side of the border.
Rookie Cards Galore
However, it is Auston Matthews rookie cards with that precious RC tag which drive this hobby most of the time and two of the first to hit the market came as redemptions in 2016-17 Artifacts and 2016-17 Upper Deck MVP, but those lucky enough to pull and redeem them had a bit of a wait until they got them in-hand. Both of these would be issued before Upper Deck’s flagship release that year.
With his Young Guns card experiencing high demand since his debut, you weren’t getting much of a bargain on one from the start. There are several parallels to track down if you dare, including Exclusives, High Gloss, and Printing Plates. For those that pulled or traded for several copies of the Young Guns card on e-Pack, there is also a foil version which is highly coveted.
Throughout 2016-17, Upper Deck’s release schedule fed the hobby a constant stream of new Matthews cards. Some of the most affordable are from O-Pee-Chee (found in packs of 2016-17 Upper Deck Series Two), O-Pee-Chee Platinum (unsigned with a virtual rainbow of parallels), Parkhurst, and the retailer-exclusive Overtime.
From there, it starts to get scarcer and much more expensive. Before we get to the best of the best, it is important to give a nod to Matthews’ rookie cards from Fleer Showcase (auto #’d to 99), SPx (#’d to 249), UD Black (auto #’d to 99), Ultimate Collection (basic card is regarded as the rookie card rather than the autographed patch due to numbering within the set), and Trilogy (#’d to 999). These cards are great, but the demand for them is not as high as those from other long-standing releases.
Interest will always be there from the 2016-17 Black Diamond rookie card of Matthews which shines due to the diamonds embedded in them, but it lacks the power of an autograph or a piece of player-worn memorabilia. For that, we instead need to chase the Future Watch autograph from 2016-17 SP Authentic.
While only a handful of the 999 copies physically made it into packs on time, this was a redemption that was worth sending in right away. The first 50 copies also bear an inscription, which was a new-ish concept for the brand at the time.
There are also a couple key Matthews rookie cards which only bear a serial number – but they are prized by collectors. In 2016-17 Upper Deck ICE, he was part of the tier of rookies whose card was numbered to 99 while his 2016-17 SP Game-Used rookie card is only out of 34 – his jersey number. Another rookie release matching those digits comes from 2016-17 Upper Deck Exquisite – which was released as bonus packs within certain brands at the time.
The granddaddy of them all, however, comes from 2016-17 The Cup. As the home of hockey’s preferred ARPs, this card numbered to 99 looks great with a hard-signed autograph and patch piece.
Since most of us may not have the budget to grab one when they pop up, the RPA from 2016-17 UD Premier is a solid alternative which is a bit more affordable due to having slightly less cachet in the collecting community.
XRC Options Exist
There are also some Auston Matthews cards which appeared in 2015-16 Upper Deck Portfolio, but they are not considered true rookie cards, but rather regarded as XRCs or pre-rookie cards. There are four different cards produced based on the designs in the one-off set along with autographed versions for each.
Demand for them is not as high as his conventional rookie cards, but they are not easy to find since they were all likely not redeemed since this underrated one-off product was not popular at the time of release.
You can check out all of Auston Matthews’ rookie cards on eBay right now here and see an up-to-the-hour list of the most watched Matthews rookie card auctions below.