Matthews willing to embrace bigger role on penalty kill
The Toronto Maple Leafs will explore giving Auston Matthews a role on the penalty kill this coming season, and the two-time "Rocket" Richard winner is all for the new opportunity.
"You're down a man but at the same time, it's hockey, a lot of anticipation, a lot of reads, and I feel like I have a good stick and can break up plays," Matthews said, according to NHL.com's Dave McCarthy. "I'd love to be utilized on it."
Matthews has only logged 24:19 on the kill since entering the league in 2016-17. He does boast some skills that could translate to the role, as he ranks fourth among all forwards in blocks (443) and fifth in takeaways (447) over the past seven seasons.
"I've always thought of it too when you go out against guys like Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on the penalty kill, it definitely makes you think a little bit more maybe just because not only are they very good defensively, they can knock pucks out of the air and force you to make plays in tough positions and then transition the other way," Matthews said.
"Obviously, you're not trying to score every time you are out there, but there's definitely a lot of opportunity there and something I definitely want to embrace."
Toronto had the NHL's 12th-ranked penalty kill last season at 81.9%, then struggled in the playoffs with a 73.3% clip. The Maple Leafs lost several shorthanded contributors over the offseason, including Noel Acciari, Ryan O'Reilly, and Alex Kerfoot.
Head coach Sheldon Keefe said the roster overhaul has played a part in the decision to give Matthews a look.
"A need and a void perhaps is the best way to describe it," Keefe said. "This will be a longer look for him just to get comfortable and familiar with it. ... Ideally for me, Auston is comfortable to take penalty-kill reps, same with (William Nylander) who has killed more than Auston over the last couple of seasons and will take a bigger step this year as well, but also have others step up so depending on what the game is calling for, we can utilize different people in different situations."
Matthews registered 40 goals and 85 points in 74 games last season, a notable step back from his 2021-22 MVP campaign when he notched 60 tallies and 46 helpers.
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