Matthews’ preparation paying off as repeat TLA finalist

Auston Matthews is looking to receive his second career Ted Lindsay Award after also clinching his third career Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy during the 2023-24 regular season.

Matthews’ preparation paying off as repeat TLA finalist

Feature Photo: Getty Images

Auston Matthews’ pursuit of perfection starts well before the first puck drop of the season.

Matthews finds himself alongside Nikita Kucherov and Nathan MacKinnon as one of the three finalists for the 2023-24 Ted Lindsay Award   the only NHL award voted on by the players themselves.

It didn’t take long for Luke Schenn, who played alongside the Toronto Maple Leafs forward in 2022-23, to appreciate the mindset of his teammate at the time.

“The first practice I had with Auston was in Vancouver, right after I got traded to Toronto,” recalled Schenn, who signed as an unrestricted free agent with Nashville Predators last July.

“Watching him, how quick his hands are and how he sees the game he’s one step ahead. The size and skill combo that he brings is impressive to watch.

“Auston has this confidence that you don’t see out of many guys, and he is also someone who puts in the work.

Alex Kerfoot, who played with Matthews in Toronto from 2019 to 2023, remembered the same meticulous preparation put in place by No. 34.

Come game night, Kerfoot knew exactly what to expect from Matthews.

“Every day, Auston is working on his game, working on every part of his game. Players like Auston don’t ever seem to take days off. But the thing with him and other elite guys is that everything they do is done for the success of the team.”

“You watch how good players like Auston are and it’s something that makes you elevate your own game what they do is make you a better player in practice, in games and preparation.”

Matthews, who received his first Ted Lindsay Award in 2021-22, continued to catch the eye of his peers throughout the 2023-24 NHL campaign.

In his eighth NHL season, he set career highs in goals (69), points (107) and faceoff wins (705).

The Maple Leafs alternate captain celebrated his third Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy (also 2020-21 and 2021-22) with the highest single-season goal total among active players.

Matthews also became only the eighth player in NHL history to reach 51 even-strength goals in a season.

“Auston is extremely competitive and always prepared,” praised Kerfoot. “He has that ability to take over a game in a split-second. If the team needs a boost, he can provide it.

“So, it’s that consistency which is just amazing. The way he does what he does every night knowing that the other team has planned for him shows you what type of elite player he is.”

Schenn also lauded Matthews’ ability to rise to the challenge of the competition.

“Night in and night out, guys like Auston are getting the toughest matchups the team’s top defensive forwards and the team’s best defencemen and yet they still find ways to produce every night.”

Matthews is also a creative mind when it comes to his craft.

“Auston is big and strong and protects the puck so well down low,” said Schenn. “He makes great plays off the rush.

“Some of the things he tries and does you don’t see a lot of guys doing that. Auston is a great skater and gets the puck off his stick so fast.”

None of what Matthews does is for personal recognition, whether it is in preparation or games, noted Schenn.

“These are the guys who are the MVPs of their team and of the league, so a lot of things flow through them. The more success they have, the more success the team will have they understand that.

“But it doesn’t matter how many points they have they continue to put in the work to try and be the best and ultimately win as a team.”

Which is precisely what Matthews’ blueprint for the 2024-25 NHL season will look like.

Although Schenn doesn’t know what the exact offseason game plan for Matthews consists of, he is well aware of the mindset that is in place.

“I don’t know every little thing that players like Auston do in the post-season, but I know it is based on finding ways to get better,” said Schenn.

“That’s why guys like him are elite.”

Kerfoot agrees.

“It’s incredibly impressive to see someone like Auston consistently push himself to raise the bar.

“That makes guys like him the best of the best.”

It also makes Matthews a strong candidate to join two of his idols, Alex Ovechkin and Patrick Kane, on the most coveted individual hockey trophy.

“The common denominator between the top guys, like these three finalists, is that once you come into the league and become one of the best players, a lot of people might think it comes easy,” said Schenn.

“But the best players are the best players because they do the extra things.”       

The 2023-24 Ted Lindsay Award recipient will be revealed June 27 at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas.