Still recovering from the August wrist surgery, defending Rocket Champion Richard regularly skated alone, struggled in the gym and wielded pucks on an empty sheet since Friday.
But the center’s debut in rush, backcheck and shooting drills was a welcome sight for his teammates.
“You always feel a bit left out when you’re not with the squad and you’re injured,” said Jason Spezza. “It’s a tough feeling as an athlete so the sooner we put him back into the mix even though he’s not a full participant but just part of the group I think that will help him.” .
“He takes the game very seriously. He devotes a lot of time to his profession. He’s always working on different things. You can tell he’s come up with some things he’s been focused on here all summer, and he looks great off the ice, and we’re excited to see him on the ice.
Matthews left morning practice an hour early, after about 25 minutes of work, enough time to slip more than a few pucks past Jack Campbell.
” Yes I like that. He’s the player he is, and he’s also the leader of our group, so it’s always nice to see him on the ice again ”, beamed Rasmus Sandin.
“Even though he wasn’t around for the entire training session, he looked really good. I’m never surprised how many goals he scores during training, even though it was his first training with the team.
Spezza notes that off-season injuries are easier on players, as they don’t have as much urgency to rush recovery and get back into action.
The Maple Leafs are “very confident” their MVP is on track to dress up on opening night on Oct. 13, and haven’t ruled out squeezing him into an exhibition game next week. It would be a bonus.
For now, the sniper will avoid contact drills and accelerate towards face-offs and putting his usual torque on his wrists.
Matthews, 24, will enter 2021-2022 just after consecutive 40-goal campaigns and, if in good health, is expected to break Rick Vaive’s franchise record for most goals in a single season (54) .
He set personal goals: 50? 60? – which he chose to keep private.
Nothing would shock his teammates, who saw him tear 41 in 52 games last winter despite a throbbing bone bruise on his wrist that hampered his shooting weapon.
Not serious. Instead, Matthews found a way to beat goalies on rebounds, tips and hitting.
“He didn’t play a lot of games where he felt 100% and yet was still amazing,” said coach Sheldon Keefe.
“It’s exciting to know that he’ll feel better when he comes back on the ice and plays for real again.
“What’s really impressive, especially fighting the injury last year, is his ability to adapt his game. Obviously he has such a unique shot and release,” Maple Leafs captain John said. Tavares. “But his ability to adapt and adapt when it will not always be available to him [and] finding ways to produce in different ways is such a key factor that it is so consistent and so dangerous.
Spezza believes Matthews, who posted a career best score of plus-21, reached another level in terms of defensive engagement and competitiveness last season.
Still, there is a higher level for the Hart Trophy finalist to achieve.
“The sky is the limit for Auston. I think he’s a guy who can be the best player in the game. He dominates both sides of the puck. He does a lot of good things even when he’s not scoring goals, and I think that’s something that gets lost a bit, ”said Spezza.
“How well he follows the pucks, how difficult it is to play against, how good he is when we have a lead. And he’s just a big man who covers a lot of ice, so he does a lot of good things.