Auston Matthews' growth measured in defensive leadership

Auston Matthews's offensive production has dropped off significantly from his Hart Trophy-winning levels last season but Toronto's No. 34 has shown leadership on defence, fearlessly forcing turnovers and being more aggressive on both sides of the puck as the Maple Leafs seek to end a run of playoff disappointment.

Video Transcript

- I think this could be a good opportunity to talk about where Matthews has been so far-- so far this season. And it's been a big conversation. You know, a lot of people expected this to be another year of multi-goal games for Matthews. Hey, maybe he scores 60, or 65, or 70.

But this year, the numbers have been tame. And I've seen a lot of people, whether it's like media or there's Leafs fans actually saying how Matthews is having a down season. And their kind of hitting him with like the Ovechkin thing. Like, oh, he's having a down season but he's still on pace for 41 goals.

I actually don't think he's having a down season, whatsoever. Yes, the production isn't there. But I do think he's found a way to take his game up to a higher level on the other end of the ice.

Matthews has always been, like, a quiet, great defending player. But I think this year, he's really kind of stepped up a little bit more, made a lot of those like loud defensive plays. Full on efforts back into the defensive zone. Just fearless blocks, getting right in front of-- right in front of shots. Stick lifting, forcing turnovers. And then, again, quickly going into offense from there.

I think-- I really do think Matthews, especially, went into the season understanding what the assignment was. This was a year where he's one season away from being able to extend long term. That's gonna be the conversation.

The Leafs have still not won a playoff series. That's gonna be a conversation. And when you take the contract or the eventual contract negotiations with the lack of playoff success, and you put it all together, it's a perfect storm of blegh.

So I think it's actually pretty sick that Matthews has recognized and understood that like, OK, goals in the playoffs are great but we also have to get better at the other things. And if I'm the best player on the team and I'm doing these things, there's no excuse for other people not to do that-- not to do that, as well, which makes him a great leader. And, again, deserving of this A.

So hopefully the Leafs are able to hold down the fort. But I'm looking forward to what Matthews is gonna do as we head into the playoffs. Maybe his-- maybe his production is gonna increase where we're gonna start to see more of those two-goal games. And maybe we're gonna start to see a lot more playoff style habits for Matthews, which, again, is definitely good-- definitely good to have towards the end of the season, considering we're probably facing Tampa again.