While Auston Matthews is looking to add the Rocket Richard Trophy to his mantelpiece, Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan believes the young centre has the potential to capture a Selke Trophy down the road as well.
"I always thought when he came up that he was one of those rare players who had the ability to lead a league in scoring and also be its best defensive player," he told reporters in Los Angeles on Thursday. "I can remember [former Red Wings teammate Sergei] Fedorov and in basketball with Michael Jordan. That's putting him in some elite company.
"But – and I don't want to put that on him today – he is that kind of guy. And you look down the hallway at a guy like [Anze] Kopitar and how he's played. I think that Auston is dynamic and explosive offensively, but I think that he also has that ability with his size and his strength and his awareness and his commitment to also be a Selke Trophy winner."
Where the team is concerned, it's been a roller-coaster season for the Maple Leafs, who have built a wider lead in the playoff race recently – five points ahead of the Florida Panthers for third place in the Atlantic Division (although the Panthers have a game in hand). After three big wins last week against Tampa Bay, Florida and Vancouver, the team came back to earth on Tuesday night with a 5-2 to the 27th-place San Jose Sharks.
"That ability to come out with the same peak effort – you're never going to do it 82 games in a row," said Shanahan. "But that’s something our guys are learning and something I’m very confident they are going to continue to grow at."
Regardless of where the team is in the standings or whether they're coming off a win or a loss, Toronto fans are always vocal about the team's championship prospects. But despite big expectations from the outside, Shanahan knows the Leafs aren't there just yet.
"Once you become a good team – and again, we're trying to develop into an elite team and we see it on some nights against opponents, we know it's there – this is what it's like," he explained. "This is what it's like as a team that's trying to compete for a Stanley Cup. It's quieter, more peaceful when you're going the other way and when you're trying to rebuild from scratch.
"But if we are lucky enough to be the kind of team that can compete and win Stanley Cups, it will not be peaceful. It will be loud and noisy because the decisions are worth more. The small decisions, the small tweaks, will have a greater impact on a bigger stage and that is just the way it is."
While Shanahan stressed the need to be patient with the Maple Leafs, he likes the moves made to help his young core take the next step towards contention.
"I think people will take a snapshot of our team and think this is exactly who we are or what we want to be, what we intend to be," he said "But when you add a guy like Kyle Clifford, I think what that intangible has done to the rest of our club, I think he's had a positive impact on Kappy's [Kasperi Kapanen's] game.
"I think having more Stanley Cup champions and more leaders – getting [Jake] Muzzin re-upped – and just sometimes with time, our players grow with experience and get that scar tissue."