Auston Matthews is no stranger to the unconventional.
The highest draft pick to ever hail from the desert, the young pivot has been turning heads since his pre-NHL days, when he opted to play his final pre-daft season in Europe rather than the usual setting of junior hockey.
Fresh off posting arguably the most dominant rookie season in Toronto Maple Leafs history, Matthews is shaking things up once again, taking a unique approach to his off-season training as he prepares for his sophomore campaign.
“I focused a lot on body posture this summer,” Matthews told Lance Hornby of the Toronto Sun on Friday. “I started doing Pilates, just kind of opening myself up more a bit, being more upright and avoiding other injuries. I think I’m more flexible. …I feel good and I’m pretty excited to get going.”
Just days away from his 20th birthday, Matthews said he was grateful to simply have some time to breathe after last year’s hectic summer.
“It was nice not having so much stuff going on around (me),” Matthews said. “Being so hectic with the combine, the draft and everything.”
Not to mention the 2016 World Cup of Hockey – which preceded the young centreman’s first NHL season – for which Matthews represented the top young guns with Team North America.
“It was more relaxing. It was nice to spend a little more time training.”
With that whirlwind of a year wrapped up, Matthews now approaches a second go-round sure to feature some hefty expectations for the young Arizona native. Such is the case when you post the most statistically impressive rookie showing in franchise history and lead your club back to the dance.
But Year 2 is sure to bring new challenges, according to Matthews.
“Only 16 teams make it and it’s not going to be easy,” he said. “We surprised some teams last year. That doesn’t really matter now. It’s a new season, they’re going to know that we have some firepower and they’re not going to take us so lightly.”