The long wait will soon be over for Auston Matthews.
After undergoing wrist surgery over two months ago, the Toronto Maple Leafs forward is finally ready to return to the lineup and will make his season debut against the New York Rangers on Monday.
"I'm pumped, it's not been a lot of fun watching," Matthews said following practice on Sunday. "It's been good to stay patient and make sure I'm feeling fully confident, taking a little bit of time and I absolutely do."
Matthews skated on a line with Nick Ritchie and Mitch Marner at practice. The first indication of his impending return was when he donned a regular blue practice jersey instead of the extras gray uniform he wore for the past few weeks.
Matthews skated with Ritchie and Marner for portions of practice at training camp and it was expected to be the first line the Maple Leafs would trot out to start the season.
Now it'll come to fruition.
"I think it adds more flow to the game," Marner said of Matthews' addition." "He's obviously a big part of our team,"
Matthews scored a league-best 41 goals last season while dealing with a nagging wrist injury. After ramping up his offseason training, the Arizona native found that the injury lingered.
On Aug. 13, Matthews underwent surgery to repair the issues in his wrist with the hope that the nagging and lingering will be behind him for good.
Matthews' return will also be a boon to the team's power play. On Saturday night, the Leafs held a 2-0 lead in the second period with a chance to put the game further out of reach with a 5-on-3 opportunity for 1:06. Ottawa's Josh Norris cut the lead in half later in the frame. The Sens thought they had tied the game moments later, but the goal was successfully challenged for offside by the Maple Leafs.
The Leafs went on to win the game 3-1.
Matthews skated on the right flank of the team's first power-play unit at practice on Sunday, alongside the other core forwards of Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander.
"Those guys had a lot of practice reps together here now but not game reps so we're going to find our way through that and see how it looks and see how it goes," Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. "But obviously it makes us more dangerous."
Matthews has spent most days putting in some solo work with the team's skills staff in an effort to improve his game in other areas. Given what Matthews managed to accomplish last season while not feeling 100 percent, there is seemingly no ceiling yet on where his game can go.
"His skating to me looks even better than it was a year ago and I thought he skated better a year ago than how he did two seasons ago," Keefe said of Matthews. "He's changed his body and training and all of those kinds of things, but now he's also committed a lot more time working on his skating, given that he couldn't handle pucks for as long as he did and he looks a lot quicker out here."
Matthews insertion into the lineup means forward Michael Amadio will likely sit out as a healthy scratch on Monday. The forward skated as the team's sixth defensemen with Justin Holl (cold symptoms) and Jake Muzzin (maintenance) absent from practice.
Holl, who missed Saturday's game, had his COVID PCR test come back negative.
The Maple Leafs have also called up goaltender Michael Hutchinson from the Toronto Marlies on an emergency basis. On Sunday, Keefe disclosed that goal Petr Mrazek will be out for 14 days.
Hutchinson went 4-2-1 in eight games last season with a .919 save percentage.