Word started to spread about Auston Matthews before the season began.
The Toronto Maple Leafs centre scored 74 goals in 144 games and then set about reworking the fundamental skills that had already turned him into one of the best in the world. It was like going under the hood of a Porsche in search of more power and performance.
And the results were quickly evident to those who have been watching him closely.
“He’s skating at another level,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said a handful of days into September’s training camp.
“I’ve skated with him before many times, but seeing him [at the Darryl Belfry skills camp in late August] I knew he was going to have a big year,” Detroit Red Wings forward Dylan Larkin told Sportsnet recently. “He looked two inches taller. I don’t know what he was doing or what. He looks huge.”
It wasn’t an optical illusion.