Keefe OK with giving Auston Matthews a look on the Maple Leafs’ penalty kill

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Penalty-killing minutes are there for the taking with the Maple Leafs.

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Will Auston Matthews skate into that void? 

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Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe is entertaining the idea.

“He’s willing and able to do whatever is asked of him to help the team,” Keefe said. “He’ll get some time through the preseason to get comfortable with that. I expect a number of other players to be competing hard for those minutes on the penalty kill.”

With the off-season departures of Alex Kerfoot, Noel Acciari and Ryan O’Reilly, the Leafs need some new forwards to join Mitch Marner and David Kampf on the kill. Among defencemen, Justin Holl’s minutes while shorthanded will have to be replaced after he signed with Detroit.

There’s a balance that Keefe will take into account with Matthews and the penalty-killing notion.

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“When it comes to a player of Auston’s calibre killing penalties, it’s not necessarily about whether he can do it, it’s about how it affects the rest of the team,” Keefe said. “If you’re going to play on the penalty kill, he’s likely to miss at least a shift of 5-on-5 play. When you have one of the best 5-on-5 players in the league playing a little bit less, that’s not always a good thing. That’s for me to manage.”

Marner is sharp on the kill and his usage there has not been a detriment to the Leafs at 5-on-5. In total minutes last season, Marner averaged exactly one more than Matthews. Just four seconds separated their average time on the power play, with Matthews playing a shade more than Marner.

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