Toronto Maple Leafs Giving Auston Matthews Time on the Penalty Kill

TORONTO, ONTARIO - NOVEMBER 15: Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Boston Bruins at the Scotiabank Arena on November 15, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ONTARIO - NOVEMBER 15: Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Boston Bruins at the Scotiabank Arena on November 15, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /
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The Toronto Maple Leafs are trying out new things this season and that includes giving Auston Matthews a look on the penalty kill.

Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe today revealed that Auston Matthews is being given some part-time minutes on the penalty kill to help ease him into what could become a larger role for the team’s elite center.

Matthews is one of the premier offensive talents in the NHL today, with two 40-goal seasons in his first four seasons in the league. The other two seasons, which saw him score 34 and 37 respectively, would have seen the young American eclipse the 40-goal mark had he maintained his scoring rates for a full 82 games. (Stats via Hockey Reference).

But now, the Leafs want to see how far his improving defensive capabilities are able to go by giving him more experience on the penalty kill.

A Shorthanded Matthews

Matthews’ role with the Leafs has increased in every season he has played with the team, becoming the 20-minutes-a-night forward that is generally expected of the players in the ‘elite’ category in the NHL.

He has shown that he is more than capable of holding his own in the defensive zone and even earned 12 votes, including a first-place vote, for the Selke Trophy last season, which placed him 16th on the list.

The 6-foot-2, 223lbs forward will provide the Leafs with something different when he is deployed in shorthanded situations. Matthews is a shockingly good shot blocker, and he’ll be an offensive threat at all times.

Though he isn’t a traditional penalty killer, at regular strength the Leafs dominate puck possession whenever he is on the ice, and if this skill can translate to the penalty kill, the Leafs will benefit immensely.

Keefe is a believer that Matthews can contribute a lot to the team’s penalty kill, which ranked 21st in the league with a 77.7% success rating in the 70-game 2019/20 season. (Standings and Team Stats via NHL.com).

Matthews will continue to be utilized to his strengths, which is goal scoring and generating offense, but having him have more defensive responsibilities should help him to grow into one of the best all-around centers in the league, which could see him earn even more recognition in Selke Trophy voting moving forward.

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The Toronto Maple Leafs are eager to get over the hump in 2021, trying new things to see what can produce better results, and this is likely just the latest in a number of other developments and practices the team is willing to try.