In case you were wondering what the buzz is among Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens fans, both teams are going head to head with one of the best rivalries in hockey in the first round of the playoffs.
During this time most of the spotlight is going to be on the star players for both teams, in particular the Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and John Tavares to lead the offensive charge. As is the case in every playoff, there are always players that elevate their play and have an even more profound impact than expected.
This is the deepest roster the Maple Leafs have iced in any playoff. They have a number of players that can step up their game and be an unsung hero with a strong performance. This isn’t just for their series against the Canadiens, but for the entire playoff run.
Zach Hyman’s play has been impressive the last two seasons. However, with the play of the stars, he’s still overshadowed as a result. While the core involves Matthews, Marner, Tavares and William Nylander, Hyman made his mark this season that he deserves to be a part of this group long term.
While we thought last season was Hyman’s best, this season he was on another level as he went above and beyond carrying his own line when not playing with Matthews and Marner. He’s extremely versatile being able to play anywhere in the lineup and in all situations. Seeing as he’s projected to be on the top line, he’ll look to play a very pivotal role for the Maple Leafs in the playoffs. He is going to be a force to be reckoned with as he has been when he has played with the Maple Leafs two superstars.
Last season would’ve been a career setting one for Hyman as he was on-pace for 25 goals and 44 points. He was on another tear to match that this season as he recorded 33 points before suffering a sprained MCL that kept him sidelined for two weeks. If he maintained that pace he would’ve had 43 points in a 56-game season. Over 82-games, that comes out to 63 points. Whether he hits that mark or not, it would still be an impressive season.
While he’s not being talked about as one of the top two-way players in the league, Hyman’s play is slowly putting himself in the conversation. His offensive game has definitely come into form as he’s proven to score some big goals, like the game-tying goal in Game 4 against the Columbus Blue Jackets last season.
His ability to play strong on both sides of the puck and being an aggressive forechecker, Hyman’s skillset is going to be a major factor for them in the series against the Canadiens and in the playoffs. Players like him always give 110% when they’re on the ice. There isn’t any doubt that he’s going to have a significant impact for the Maple Leafs from here on out.
Jason “Vintage” Spezza really surpassed expectations this season re-signing with the Maple Leafs. As one of the veterans on the team he was relied on to lead the bottom six forward group. Along with other veterans like Joe Thornton and Wayne Simmonds, Spezza’s still looking to add a Stanley Cup to his resume. You can bet that he’s going to put his best foot forward.
Spezza quietly finished the season seventh in team scoring with 30 points while averaging just over 11 minutes of ice time per game. This is an impressive stat line given where he is in the lineup. We expected him to chip in offensively, but never expected him to finish in the top-10 in team scoring. Over an 82-game season, he would be on-pace for 45 points, closing in on the 50-point mark that he recorded in 2016-17 as a fourth line centre.
While that same kind of production may not happen in the playoffs, Spezza is still someone that can fly under the radar and can provide a big boost to the team offensively. He’s definitely going to be a major factor for the team in the offensive zone as he has his patented fake slap shot and size to battle it out along the corners.
Though it’s his play in the defensive zone and ability to be a force in the faceoff circle is where Spezza’s going to shine. With a minimum of 100 draws taken league wide, he finished 10thin faceoff percentage with 56.9%. Out of 136 draws taken on the penalty kill, he won 73 (a 54% winning percentage), which puts him tied for sixth overall in the league. Expect him to be effective at both ends of the ice again in the playoffs.
A team’s depth goes along way when trying to go for a lengthy playoff run. He provides the centre depth that the Maple Leafs have been searching for and he has delivered. Despite his age, Spezza is showing no signs of slowing down. He sparked a comeback win in the qualifying round in the 2020 playoffs. You can expect him to provide even more of a spark this time around.
While he only played in nine games during the regular season and averaged under 15 minutes per game, Rasmus Sandin is poised to have a strong breakout performance in the playoffs. The young Maple Leafs defenseman may have stolen a roster spot for the postseason and he isn’t looking back.
With every game that he has played, Sandin has impressed his teammates and coaches and has continued to get better. As a result, he earned a spot on the top pairing when Morgan Rielly was held out of the lineup for a game and is starting to get regular minutes on the top power-play unit. From that moment on, he played with great purpose and conviction.
Even with a small sample, Sandin is making strides in his development as he’s proving his worth as a consistent defender. At five-on-five, he has a goals for percentage of 80% which has him first on the team with at least 100 minutes played. In addition, he has been on the ice for 43 scoring chances against, which puts him third overall. He has proven he can hold his own in the NHL and has great speed and confidence with the puck.
Even though he may be on the third pairing, Sandin is expected to raise his competitive edge to new heights as he’s set to play in Game 1. If he plays well, it would be very difficult to take him out of the lineup, knowing his ability to play a well-rounded game. Not only that, he’s looking to provide a boost to a struggling power play as he has the ability to move the play quickly and make quick passes from the point. By gaining more opportunities and more responsibility from the coaching staff, he is poised to have a strong playoffs.
While these three players are on my radar to have a strong postseason and make significant contributions, the Maple Leafs are going to get assistance from everyone. Their depth is going to play a key part as it was in the regular season. As a result, someone is going to step up and rise to the occasion.
Hockey has been a big part of my life since watching my first Leafs game to currently coaching minor hockey. I previously interned at The Hockey News and worked on Toronto Marlies broadcasts for Rogers TV. Aside from hockey, I also enjoy drumming, animation and impressions/ voices.