Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews on Tavares, learning to win (PHT Q&A)

It’s been an historic start to the 2018-19 NHL season for Auston Matthews. As the Toronto Maple Leafs have lit up the scoresheet with 33 goals — 10 from Matthews alone — in seven games, the star forward has been setting records almost on a nightly basis.

Toronto’s 4-1 win over the Kings on Tuesday saw Matthews record a multi-point game for the seventh time this season. He’s also on a 17-game regular season points streak dating back to last Feb. 22. With his two points against Los Angeles, the 21-year-old joined the likes of Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy, Wayne Gretzky and Kevin Stevens to record multiple points in his team’s first seven games of the season.

That’s a heckuva start for Matthews in a season where it wouldn’t be surprising if he ended it with 40-plus goals, 100-plus points and maybe a few trophies to take home from Las Vegas in late June. There is one specific trophy, of course, that he’d like to be lifting in six months. The addition of John Tavares has put the Maple Leafs in Stanley Cup contender talk, but there’s still lots to work out — hello, defense! — before they can reach that point.

“I think talking to [Maple Leafs GM] Kyle [Dubas] and the vision he has and when they were talking to John in the summer just what would happen, you know if you won a Stanley Cup in Toronto,” Matthews told NBC during NHL Player Media Tour in Chicago last month. “The hockey mecca of the world, it would be absolutely crazy. Obviously, we’re trying to build something to get to the top of that mountain and obviously accomplish that goal, but we got a long way to go and a lot of young players who are very hungry. It’s definitely something you think about every once in a while.”

We spoke with Matthews about the Tavares addition, learning from playoff failures and his wicked shot.

Enjoy.

Q. Go back to the day you heard that you had Tavares as a member of your team.

MATTHEWS: “Yeah, I was home and Kyle  actually called me, woke me up. I pretended like I was up for hours, but it was on a weekend, though, so it was OK. He was like ‘Hey, we signed John. We’re gonna announce it in the next hour so, just wanted to let you know’ and you know, I couldn’t really believe it. I was so excited by it. I didn’t really know what he was thinking. I heard the meetings went well with the management with Kyle and all of them, talking to him over the phone and he had a lot of questions and I tried to answer them as best as possible for him. So, he was kind of talking to a lot of different people, a lot of different teams, so you can kind of get a feel for it, but you just don’t know and obviously [I was] extremely excited when I found out he chose to sign with Toronto.”

Q. When you look at the Leafs, what have you learned, as a team, over the course of the last couple of seasons of how hard it is to win especially come playoff time? 

MATTHEWS: “Yeah, absolutely. That’s what it’s all about right there. Come playoff time it’s not easy, I mean, you look at Washington last year they almost didn’t make it out of the first round and then they went on the win the Cup. So I think that has been a good learning lesson for us young guys, just how hard it is even in the first round to get by, and you know when you have a player like John [Tavares], who has had that experience; obviously, he is still trying to reach that ultimate goal. Him coming here is definitely going to help us, but it doesn’t just make it a cake walk.”

Q. You being one of the young stars in the NHL, how can a guy like John Tavares help a guy like Auston Matthews?

MATTHEWS: “I think he can help me in a lot of different ways. Obviously he’s been in the league for a while, his resume speaks for itself; you know he is a top ten player in the league, a superstar center. He knows what he is doing as far as the way he treats his body on and off the ice nutrition, you know just taking care of those things that make such a big difference during the season. I think not only myself, but a lot of young guys can really look at that and not only ask questions but pick things that he does and kind of use it for ourselves as well.”

[What’s the ceiling for Auston Matthews this season?]

Q. Your release is something that is very unique and it’s something that’s so quick. How did you develop that, did you realize that is what separated you from a lot of other players you know with the skills that you had?

MATTHEWS: “You know, I think I’ve always been a shoot first mentality. I’ve always had a pretty decent shot, I think the summer before my draft year, maybe after my draft year, my first NHL season I basically just worked on my shot all summer. I was working with Darryl Belfry, who I still work with today. And it wasn’t just shooting; it was all different kinds of angles, different kinds of pucks in your feet, different areas being able to get the goalie moving one way or another, being able to find different spots. So, I know for myself I’m a shoot first kind of guy, and as you get up in levels, boys are just that much better, you don’t have that much time and space and being able to get your shot off quick and pick you corner makes a big difference.”

Q. The specifics of that trait, of working on your shot. Was it specifically on the ice stuff, or was it off the ice stuff like body position and hands, where the puck might be positioned on your stick?

MATTHEWS: “I think mostly on ice, to be honest. You know, I think training is a big part and especially in our summers being able to get stronger and more explosive. And that obviously helps with your shot, but you know I feel for myself, when I want to work on something I really improve on that, and the best way to do that is on the ice because that’s what we do for a living.”

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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