Auston Matthews is known for his scoring prowess. However, he has now embarked on a new plan for the season. During the preseason (at least) he has been spending time as a penalty killer for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
This transition is a change from his usual job as a goal scorer; however, on the face of the idea, there’s logic to it. Other elite players – and here I’m thinking mostly about Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers – have already added that aspect of the game to their resume. Why not Matthews? He already has elite defensive skills that he uses on the ice. Why not utilize these skills in a more defined role?
The Move to the Penalty Kill Is a New One for Matthews
In the entirety of the 2022-23 season, Matthews spent a mere three minutes and 29 seconds on the penalty kill. However, in just a few preseason games this fall, he’s surpassed that total. He’s already been able to create a few offensive rushes, even with his team a man down.
During these penalty-killing assignments, Matthews has shown his ability to create turnovers in the defensive zone, often leading to quality scoring opportunities for the Maple Leafs while shorthanded. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates. Newcomer (this season) Max Domi sees the advantage of having a player of Matthews’ calibre on the penalty kill.
As Domi stated, “Matthews is one of the best players in the world, right? So, I mean, you want him on the ice as much as possible.”
For Head Coach Sheldon Keefe, It’s Still an Experiment
However, head coach Sheldon Keefe hasn’t yet made a final decision about this experiment. While Matthews has shown promise in generating scoring chances while shorthanded, Keefe knows there are risks involved. The obvious big risk is getting scored on by the opposition.
Who wants to pull the puck out of their own net when the penalty-killing fails?
For Matthews, Penalty Killing Is a Work in Progress
Matthews’ transition to a penalty killer is a work in progress. Furthermore, it raises questions about how the Maple Leafs can utilize their best player’s offensive talents while also maximizing his defensive contributions.
As the regular season begins, it will be interesting to see whether this experiment becomes fully integrated into the team’s systems. Will it become a regular part of Matthews’ role as a player? And, will he be as good at it as he is with other weapons in his arsenal?