Mike Matheson knows he can, and will, be better.
Despite matching a career-high with 27 points in 75 games during the 2018-19 campaign, the Florida Panthers defenseman told reporters after April's locker clean out from BB&T Center that he was "super disappointed" with his overall performance during an up-and-down season.
Finding no solace in his offensive numbers, Matheson was his own biggest critic.
"It's not hard to look at how the games went and know that I wasn't good enough this year," Matheson said bluntly. "I'm really disappointed in that, but at the same time you kind of just need to step back in the next little while, get away from the game a bit and then start fresh with summer training. I'm going to work like crazy and make sure I'm ready to go for next year."
Still, there's certainly no denying Matheson's boundless abilities and potential.
The 23rd overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, it's almost impossible to watch an entire Panthers game without at least one "wow" moment from Matheson. Whether it's a quick step around a defender or going coast-to-coast to score a goal, his skating and athleticism jump out at you.
Taking on a top-pairing role alongside Aaron Ekblad late in the season, the 25-year-old went on to finish his third full tour in the NHL with eight goals, 19 assists and a team-leading 132 blocked shots - 29 more than the next-highest Panther - while skating a career-high 22:19 per contest.
Looking ahead, Matheson believes consistency will be paramount as he works to return to form.
"I know that I have the ability and the tools to be a great player and a more consistent player," Matheson said. "That's exciting for me and the thing that kept me up the most at night is that I kind of felt that I let my teammates down in a lot of games. I never want to be in that situation again… We want to be in the playoffs every year, and I want to help my teammates get there."
With the arrival of new head coach Joel Quenneville, Matheson seems poised to break out in the coming seasons. In addition to piloting the Chicago Blackhawks to a trio of Stanley Cups (2010, 2013 and 2015), Quenneville also succeeded in developing some of the league's top defensemen -- such as Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson -- along the way.
As he approaches the 300-game benchmark in the NHL (he currently sits at 240), it's clear that Matheson, armed with an incredible work ethic and a yet-to-be-sniffed ceiling, is willing and eager to do whatever it takes to help both himself and the Panthers reach the league's pinnacle.
"He's seen it all," Matheson said when asked about the impact Quenneville will have on the organization and its players "He's been to the Stanley Cup Final, and he's won. He knows how to handle the ebbs and flows of the year and how to get the most out of his players. He knows how to help them reach their goal of winning the Stanley Cup. That's exactly what we want."
Matheson appears to have found his calling on the penalty kill.
Ending the season as Florida's premier penalty-killing defenseman, he led the team with an average of 2:24 of shorthanded ice time per game. Matheson also paced his teammates in points (2) and blocked shots (30) on the PK, which ranked 10th in the NHL at 81.3 percent.
"I think that was kind of a bright spot for me," Matheson said. "It gave me some confidence. If you at look at the second half of the year, I think I played a lot better than in the first half. In the grand scheme of things, no it wasn't a great year. But playing well in the second, being better on the PK and stuff like that, it helped."
Matheson did a little bit of everything in this matchup.
In addition to finding the back of the net twice, he also skated a game-high 4:27 on the penalty kill to help lead the Panthers to a 6-2 win over the Minnesota Wild at BB&T Center on March 8.
Having already beaten goaltender Alex Stalock with a wrist shot from the left circle late in the second period, Matheson went on the attack again in the third, scoring a smooth wrap-around goal that extended the lead to 6-2 with 9:37 left in regulation, essentially sealing the victory.
Video: MIN@FLA: Barkov sets club mark on Matheson's second
With MacKenzie Weegar also scoring two goals in the contest, the game also marked the first time in franchise history that a pair of defensemen potted two goals apiece in the same game.
"Obviously when we can help out, it helps the forwards out a lot," Weegar said of him and Matheson's big night after the game. "They can sort of play a little looser. Matty [Matheson], that's what he does. He can get up in the play pretty quick and put one behind you pretty fast."
GOAL OF THE YEAR
When Matheson turns on the jets, opposing defenses better look out.
In a showdown with the Boston Bruins on Dec. 4, Matheson gathered the puck behind Florida's net before blowing past two would-be defenders on his way into the offensive zone. Once in the zone, he finished off his coast-to-coast showpiece by firing a wrist shot from the right circle that flew under goaltender Jaroslav Halak's arm and into the net for a slick goal.
Video: BOS@FLA: Matheson scores on end-to-end rush
"It just kind of developed," Matheson said of the score. "As the play went on, I just wheeled the net, looked for an outlet, but didn't have it, so I started skating and then it opened up a little bit."