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Toronto Maple Leafs Want Auston Matthews to Take the Subsequent Step

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He received the Calder Trophy and set Toronto Maple Leaf rookie information with 40 objectives and 69 factors. He ranks second in even-strength objective scoring behind solely Connor McDavid since his debut. He leads the league in objectives per hour in any respect strengths over that very same span.

And but everybody is aware of that Auston Matthews nonetheless has one other gear to succeed in.

Auston Matthews should take one other step for the Toronto Maple Leafs subsequent season (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

He was usually dominant this previous season, setting a profession excessive of 73 factors in simply 68 video games, and he adopted that up with a formidable exhibiting of 5 objectives and an help within the playoffs. However even together with his manufacturing, there are nonetheless lulls of inconsistency and areas for enchancment. And if he desires group success to observe, Matthews must take the following step as a participant, and chief, for the Maple Leafs. However which aspects of his recreation want probably the most enchancment if he desires to unlock his true potential?

Defence First

On a Mike Babcock-coached hockey group, defence at all times comes first. And regardless of his status as a robust two-way participant, Matthews hasn’t had the best leads to his personal finish of the rink.

This season, Matthews was very leaky defensively. He was the second-worst Toronto ahead by way of even-strength goals-for share at 48.15. He was truly considered one of solely three forwards that had been beneath 50 p.c on the season, together with Tyler Ennis and Patrick Marleau.

Matthews might want to tighten up in his personal zone if he desires to meet his celebrity potential (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand)

Regardless of his terrific offensive skills, Matthews allowed Three.87 objectives towards per hour when on the ice – by far the worst price on the group amongst forwards. And it’s not like this was simply dangerous luck: Matthews additionally allowed probably the most scoring possibilities towards per hour at 31.85.  Even plain field scores, Matthews was a team-worst minus-nine. When he’s on the ice, the opposition merely generates extra possibilities and objectives.

Auston Matthews 5v5 unblocked shot charges, 2018-19: with (left) vs. with out (proper). Chart from hockeyviz.com

This shot price chart illustrates Matthews’ defensive struggles completely. Discover how the Maple Leafs defend the entrance of their web comparatively effectively till Matthews is on the ice. When the star centreman is tasked with defending in his personal zone, he bleeds pictures and scoring possibilities. And for somebody that’s purported to be a top-five participant at his place, this merely isn’t acceptable. If Matthews desires to take the following step as a premier participant within the Nationwide Hockey League, bettering in his personal zone would be the place to begin.

Consistency Is Key

The largest grievance about Matthews over the course of his profession has been his lack of consistency. Extra exactly, followers appear to take problem together with his perceived lack of effort at occasions.

With reference to effort degree, my private perspective is that skilled athletes are usually giving their all. Totally different gamers merely categorical effort in several methods, and with an elite participant like Matthews, typically he makes issues look really easy that it simply looks like he isn’t making an attempt. Fellow Maple Leafs William Nylander and Jake Gardiner have usually been criticized for his or her lack of effort too, however I’d argue that it’s their coolness and composure that will get mistaken for laziness. And the identical argument will be utilized to Matthews.

There have been questions surrounding the work ethic of each William Nylander and Auston Matthews. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports activities)

The stats don’t actually help the notion that Matthews is inconsistent, both: this season, his longest scoreless drought was simply 4 video games. He had a shot on web in each recreation however one, and had a minimum of two pictures in 63 of 68 video games. And admittedly, you don’t turn into probably the most prolific objective scorer within the league by being inconsistent.

What I believe followers actually take problem with, and justifiably so, is Matthews’ lack of physicality and aggression. Regardless of standing at 6-foot-Three, 223 kilos, he’s hardly a bodily drive on the ice: he doesn’t lay many hits (simply 28 this season) or interact bodily fairly often, and he doesn’t normally use his dimension to drive to the web. That is most likely one of many greatest components behind his defensive struggles: he merely doesn’t interact opponents aggressively sufficient in his personal zone. He has a terrific defensive stick and makes use of it effectively, however whenever you’re up towards the most effective gamers on the earth, that isn’t sufficient. That’s one thing he’ll be taught with time and expertise.

On the offensive facet of issues, it’s truthful sufficient to argue sniper like Matthews shouldn’t should sacrifice his physique to attain – his arms are greater than succesful. However would it not harm to make use of his body slightly extra aggressively in attending to the web? If nothing else, it will add one other dimension to his recreation to maintain defenders sincere. And the factor is, we’ve seen him do it with nice success on a number of events.

However, we’ve additionally seen him put the shoulder down with disastrous outcomes. Is it definitely worth the threat when he’s already so efficient in different areas? That’s as much as Matthews to determine.

However that brings us to our subsequent level: well being. For Matthews to turn into a constant participant, he’s going to wish to remain wholesome. He performed all 82 video games in his rookie season however since then he’s performed 62 and 68 over the previous two seasons, respectively. He’s handled quite a lot of accidents to his again and shoulders, and likewise sustained a concussion. There are already murmurs that Matthews is damage susceptible, but it surely’s arduous to leap to that conclusion simply but. That stated, he’s going to wish to play a full season, or a minimum of near it, to silence the critics.

Management and the Captaincy

There’s been hypothesis that it will lastly be the summer time that Matthews is known as captain. Whether or not it occurs or not, he’s going to should show himself as a succesful chief.

If Matthews is known as captain, it reveals that the Maple Leafs’ administration, teaching employees, and gamers consider in his potential to guide the group. However being simply 21, he’s nonetheless a really younger man. And regardless of his glistening status and sky-high potential, he’s nonetheless creating and discovering his manner within the league. Many of the fanbase would possible welcome such an announcement as a result of it appeared destined to occur ultimately, however there’ll nonetheless be questions surrounding his maturity and readiness for the function. In spite of everything, if Matthews is given the “C” this summer time, he will likely be one of many 10 youngest captains in NHL historical past.

Is Auston Matthews able to be named captain? (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)

However, if the entrance workplace opts to delay their determination, and even identify another person as captain, there will likely be one other set of questions surrounding Matthews’ management. Why isn’t he prepared? Will he ever be prepared? Is he not the person for the job?

Subsequent Season Will Be a “Show It” Yr

On high of the pressures related to taking part in in Toronto, Matthews’ new contract will kick in subsequent season, including a complete new layer of expectation. Signed for one more 5 years at $11.634 per season, Matthews is presently set to be the second-highest-paid participant within the league behind McDavid.

In a variety of methods, it’s going to be a “prove-it” yr for the Maple Leafs star centreman: he’s going to wish to reside as much as his new contract, present that he can keep wholesome, and simply possibly lead the Maple Leafs to a long-awaited playoff run.

Participant stats from hockey-reference.com and naturalstattrick.com

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