Maple Leafs star Matthews pushes to do more than expected in practice

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews (34) works on his conditioning and skating efficiency alone on the ice during their NHL training camp in Toronto on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021. Matthews is not skating with the team due to wrist surgery (Nathan Denette/CP).

TORONTO – With the Toronto Maple Leafs’ season opening in just 10 days, Auston Matthews made a significant step toward a healthy return Sunday.

The NHL’s reigning goal-scoring champ participated in his first contract drills since undergoing wrist surgery in August.

Although the club has been careful to not place a definitive timeline on Matthews’ recovery, the team is encouraged by how quickly his wrist has progressed.

The star centre has stated that he’s aiming to be ready for Toronto’s season opener on Oct. 13 versus the Montreal Canadiens.

“I mean, it’s Auston Matthews. He looks pretty good,” John Tavares said.

“Just be out there feeling your game, getting those reps, and feeling pressure and getting back to game speed, I know he’s excited and working hard for it. Today, it seemed like a good step for him.

“He pushes everyone to be better just because he’s so good.”

Matthews centred Mitch Marner and Nick Ritchie in line rushes and resumed his usual spot on the flank during the Leafs’ first on-ice run through with assistant coach Spencer Carbery’s new-look power-play unit.

“He did a lot more today than we were expecting him to, frankly,” Keefe said. “He shot the puck a lot harder today. This is the first time I saw him really leaning into one-timers, so it was very clear that he was feeling good.

“He chose to continue going in drills and doing some contact stuff, which we didn’t expect him to do today. But he wanted to.”

After 50 minutes of work, Matthews left practice early and did not participate in his group’s scrimmage.

Toronto has three exhibition games this week. It will be considered a bonus if Matthews is able to suit up for Saturday’s dress rehearsal versus Montreal.

“We’re not pushing for that,” Keefe said.

“When he says he’s ready, and the medical team believes he’s ready, he’ll be in. Whether that’s in pre-season, whether that’s Game 1, or whether it’s after that, we don’t know. But we’re trending in the right direction here, for sure.”

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