TORONTO — Auston Matthews remains focused on being ready for the Toronto Maple Leafs when they play the Montreal Canadiens in their regular-season opener Oct. 13.
“I’m just taking it day by day and still kind of planning and hoping for that first game,” Matthews said Monday. “I feel pretty good. I think each day has progressed pretty well. In the last couple weeks, I’ve been able to turn it up a couple notches and handle the puck and shoot and just feel more comfortable. Taking reps with the guys is a good sign for me.”
The center, who had wrist surgery Aug. 13, was less committal on whether he would get into any of Toronto’s remaining three preseason games, against the Ottawa Senators on Monday (7 p.m. ET; SN), the Canadiens on Tuesday, and Ottawa again Saturday.
“I think there would be a lot of value in different aspects of it but I’m really not too sure,” Matthews said. “We’ve got a few games left, so we’ll see how it goes throughout the week.”
Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said at this point, he is not sure if Matthews will be ready to play in the preseason.
“When Auston and the medical team deem it is appropriate for him to resume full participation and be ready for games, we will of course get him involved,” Keefe said. “Until then, he is going to continue to go through his process and I have no doubts he will be ready.”
Matthews participated in some contact drills Sunday and skated Monday wearing a red, non-contact jersey. He said he was pleased with how the wrist responded after the hour-long session.
“I think it was more precautionary,” Matthews said. “I think the boys know not to try to run me through the boards right now.
“Today was good getting into the corners with guys and feeling that pressure and other bodies on you in the corner and working through it. Everything felt pretty solid, so I was pretty happy with it. I was really itching to get back and test it a little bit jumping into some drills and feeling it out. Today was a good step partaking in the full practice. It felt good.”
Matthews played through the wrist injury for most of last season, when he led the NHL with 41 goals in 52 games. He said is still dealing with slight pain that occurs occasionally during drills, but that it is more to do with working through the process of coming back from surgery.
“It’s just about building back strength to where it felt when I was 100 percent healthy,” Matthews said. “It’s definitely getting there. It just takes time but I’m happy where it’s gone. It’s not quite where I want it to be, but I like where it is progressing and where it’s going. I can only control what I can control as far as this whole process has gone, so it’s been going well and I’m happy where I’m at. I’m just going to keep pushing and hope for the best here.”
Matthews is also looking to create a rapport with left wing Nick Ritchie, his new linemate with right wing Mitchell Marner. Zach Hyman skated with Matthews and Marner before signing a seven-year contract with the Edmonton Oilers as an unrestricted free agent July 28.
Ritchie signed a two-year contract with the Maple Leafs on July 31.
“It’s been good in the couple drills we’ve had together,” Matthews said. “He’s obviously a really big boy (6-foot-2, 230 pounds) but he can make plays. It’s really impressive, forehand, backhand with guys on him, he’s such a big body and it’s hard to take the puck away from him and he’s got great vision. So far it’s been pretty good and we just to continue to build that chemistry and get more reps together.”