Leafs teammates break down Auston Matthews’ unique shooting ability

Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews looks on during a faceoff. (Nick Wass/AP)

On the heels of a dominant rookie campaign that saw him pot 40 goals, emerging as the top-line pivot the Toronto Maple Leafs have long craved, Auston Matthews is back to his old tricks in Year 2. The 20-year-old has six goals and 10 points to his name through seven tilts, his Leafs sitting atop the league standings.

To the untrained eye, Matthews’ skill routinely astounds, his roster of toe-drags, no-look feeds and off-angle shots dropping jaws on the regular. But it seems even for fellow NHL veterans, the 2016 No. 1 pick is something special.

“He has a really strong sense of his skill level,” fellow Leaf Connor Carrick told Sports Illustrated’s Alex Prewitt in a piece published Thursday. “I think he’s just able to work at a little bit higher pace in those tighter situations. Some guys see traffic as something to avoid, something to slow down for. You almost see him look at numbers at the line and hit the gas, attack the line and bull-rush it.”

Carrick – who had the chance to observe a few other elite talents like Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom during a brief stint in Washington a few years ago – elaborated on what makes Matthews’ shooting ability so unique.

“The blend in his shot is really special, his ability to change angles and be deceptive and land in one piece and let that puck go is really high-end. Then I think the fact that when he’s stick-handling in-zone, all 360 degrees around him are in play. He’ll use whatever he’s got. He’ll use the back of the wall, he’ll use his feet, he’ll put it in areas and block a guy’s stick. He’s very talented that way, and he’s able to use his range all around him. And then when you have his size, it’s hard to reach around and try to poke that puck free.”

Veteran Leaf Matt Martin had his own front-row seat to watch top-tier talent in the past, having spent nearly a decade with New York Islanders pivot John Tavares. The big-bodied bruiser offered up plenty of praise for Matthews as well.

“You see him do that drag-and-pull a lot that changes the angle of his shot,” Martin told Prewitt. “He can be stickhandling, looking like he’s going to pass, fire it on net. You never get the same shot out of him twice, I guess. He can really shoot from any angle in any position. I think it’s deceptive. It’s hard for goalies to know what he’s going to do with the puck, because he’s such a good playmaker too that you can’t just play his shot.

“He never really commits to just shooting. He leaves himself options, and when he does shoot it, it’s pretty accurate.”

According to Matthews’ father Brian, much of that unpredictable style can be credited to skills coach Darryl Belfry, who’s worked with the younger Matthews for the past two years.

“It was mostly changing the angle, shooting off any foot, shooting in stride, adding elements of deception,” the elder Matthews said of his son’s focus during his sessions with Belfry. “It was hidden and disguised. Auston wanted no one to know when it was coming.”

A year and a month into his NHL career, it’s fair to hang a “mission accomplished” banner on that one. While there’s plenty of growth on tap for the young Leaf’s skill set, there’s no question Matthews has already established himself as one of the game’s premier snipers, his 46 career goals ranking as the third-most scored by anyone since he first stepped on NHL ice.


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