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Five Questions With...

Five Questions with Auston Matthews

Maple Leafs center discusses playing in Toronto, Tavares addition, improved skating

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / Staff Writer's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs throughout the 2018-19 regular season. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the most recent news.

The latest edition features Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews.

TORONTO -- Auston Matthews was 6 years old when the Toronto Maple Leafs last won a series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

He wants to help end that dry spell.

"I think we have the potential to be a great team, but we have to put in the work," the 21-year-old center told "Nothing is going to be given to us.

"We've had a couple of optimistic seasons, but we ended up coming up short. Our goals are much higher than that."

Matthews and the Maple Leafs will begin that quest when they open the 2018-19 regular season against the Montreal Canadiens at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; SN, RDS, NHL.TV). A photo of Matthews is on the tickets for that game, yet another reminder of how popular he is in hockey-crazed Toronto.

Expectations of Matthews and his teammates have skyrocketed, especially since center John Tavares signed a seven-year, $77 million contract July 1. The Maple Leafs have not won a playoff series since defeating the Ottawa Senators in seven games in the 2004 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

Toronto has reached the postseason in each of Matthews' first two seasons only to be eliminated each time in the Eastern Conference First Round, in six games by the Washington Capitals in 2017 and in seven games by the Boston Bruins in April. Matthews said the Maple Leafs must learn from those shortcomings heading into the new season.

Video: Auston Matthews is named No. 10 on the list

When the puck is dropped against Montreal, Matthews will find himself on a line with Patrick Marleau and Tyler Ennis. William Nylander would take Ennis' spot if his impasse with management over a new contract is settled.

"[Nylander] will be fine when he gets in," Matthews said. "He's been around here for what, 2 1/2 years? He's a special player."

So, too, is Matthews. He has 132 points (74 goals, 58 assists) in 144 NHL games and won the Calder Trophy in 2016-17 as NHL rookie of the year. In his mind, the best is yet to come.

All the while, his fame continues to soar. He was featured in a photo shoot in GQ magazine last week. His photo is featured on banners that hang from light standards around Scotiabank Arena.

It's good to be Auston Matthews these days. Or so it seems.

Here are Five Questions with … Auston Matthews

You're a kid who grew up in Arizona and played in Switzerland. With all due respect to those places, they're not the hockey fishbowls that Toronto is. Few places are. Whether it was coach Mike Babcock's visit with you at your home during the offseason or constant debate over how you would feel about the vacant Maple Leafs captaincy, everything here seems to eventually go public. How has a private kid like you -- and I think people forget sometimes how young you still are -- adapted to the omnipresent limelight that is hockey in this city?

"It's been a learning experience especially that first year. I think going into it, a lot of people can tell you what it's like, but I don't think you really know what it's like or expect until you actually experience it. Obviously, playing in Toronto the past two years, you learn the landscape and what is expected. That's just the way it is. It's the hockey mecca of the world. All the little things end up being big things, and I think that's just the way it is. I think we're going to try to do as best as possible to manage it. But it's hard. Sometimes it's out of your control."

How have you grown up in the past 24 months in that regard?

"You've got to, I guess. You get asked the same question a lot, sometimes over and over again. It's basically the same answer every time. That part, I guess, can be frustrating at times. I think that's one thing about being a pro and playing in the NHL, those are the type of things that you have to deal with and embrace and accept. I have no problem with that. But like you said, it can get frustrating at times."

Obviously, the signing of John Tavares has added another layer of optimism to the team's outlook this season. What have you learned about John in the past three months that you didn't know prior to his coming here?

"I've known him for a bit and seen him in summers past, before I was in the NHL. Just the way he goes about his business. He's a pretty conservative guy. But as far as on and off the ice, just the way he treats his body, his nutrition, he's very professional. It says a lot to the type of person he is and who he is as a guy. For a lot of us, we're still young -- 21, 22, 23 -- and just going into our third season. He's definitely a guy whose brain you can pick because he's been through so much already in his career."

You and John are part of an impressive first power-play unit that also includes Mitchell Marner, Nazem Kadri and Morgan Rielly. How impressed were you at the success you guys had on the man-advantage (5-for-12) during the preseason?

"Both units have been looking pretty good. We've been able to capitalize and score some goals, and even our penalty kill's been putting up some goals for us too. I think that's always a positive because special teams play a big part in creating offense and momentum, so when that stuff's rolling, it's definitely a good sign."

Your skating has been strong since the first day of training camp. You've attributed part of that to former Olympic skater Barb Underhill, who is the Maple Leafs skating consultant. How much has she helped you and what is your goal in this process?

"I've said before that you'd like to skate like [Edmonton Oilers center] Connor McDavid, but it doesn't happen overnight. A lot of it is mechanics. You want to be explosive, to get the advantage of the first step. I can already notice a difference. Barb has really helped with that."

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