Maple Leafs’ Conn Smythe Leader After Round 1

We know. It’s far too early for such speculation. 

Although the Toronto Maple Leafs have finally made it past the first round after seven tries, and it’s been 19 years since they last advanced to the second round, it is, after all, just one round. There have three rounds and 12 wins to go. It’s way too early to be planning a parade and talking about a Conn Smythe winner.

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Yet here we are. In this post, we will discuss who is the Maple Leafs’ most valuable player to this point.

Player One: Captain John Tavares

John Tavares scored the biggest goal for the Maple Leafs in almost two decades. If not for that goal, both teams could be heading back to Toronto to face another dreaded Game 7. 

But score it, Tavares did. Was there good luck involved? Darn right. But, there was bad luck involved in their past losses as well. The fact remains he scored it.  

Related: Jonathan Toews: Beyond the Glory

Tavares scored a hat trick in the Maple Leafs’ bounce-back Game 2 win following the embarrassing 7-3 loss in Game 1. Altogether, he had four goals and seven points in six games in the series.

Player Two: Ryan O’Reilly

Ryan O’Reilly was just what the doctor ordered at the trade deadline. He’s a difference-maker whether or not he plays in the top six or on the third line. 

In Game 3, O’Reilly assisted on the Maple Leafs’ opening goal of the game, scored the game-tying goal in the last minute of the third period to send the game into overtime, and then assisted on the overtime-winner by Morgan Rielly. 

Andrei Vasilevskiy Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy makes the lunging pad save against Toronto Maple Leafs Ryan O’Reilly (Photo by Gavin Napier/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

In Game 4, O’Reilly again assisted on the Maple Leafs’ first goal. He also assisted on Rielly’s game-tying goal that sent the game into overtime. Altogether O’Reilly had two goals and five assists in the six-game series.

Player Three: Auston Matthews

Auston Matthews had a point in every game of the first round and five goals in the last four games of the series. He finished with five goals and four assists.

He had two assists in a losing cause in Game 1. He assisted on the Maple Leafs’ first and third goals in Game 2 and scored a goal in Game 3 to put the Maple Leafs up 2-1.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Matthews Learned His Hockey Skills in a Phoenix Thrift Store

With the Maple Leafs down 4-1 in Game 4, Matthews scored twice to pull the team within one late in the third. In Game 5, he scored with Samsonov pulled for the extra attacker to again bring the Maple Leafs to within a goal late in the game. In Game 6, he scored the opening goal in a 2-1 win for the Maple Leafs. 

That’s a long list of scoring.

Player Four: Mitch Marner

Mitch Marner led all Maple Leafs’ players with 11 points in six games. He finished the series with two goals and nine assists; those nine assists top the NHL in the 2023 Playoffs. He ranks tied for second in overall points with Leon Draisaitl, one point behind Roope Hintz of the Dallas Stars. He is also first with a plus-9 rating.

Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs
Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Marner has scored or assisted on 48 percent of his team’s goals (11 of 23) and has been on the ice for 61 percent of Toronto’s goals (14 of 23) in the series. 

They announced on the TV broadcast following Game 6 that Marner was on the ice for eight of the last nine goals the Maple Leafs scored. 

Player Five: Ilya Samsonov

For the first time in the last seven seasons, the Maple Leafs had a goaltender who outperformed the opposition in a series-deciding game. When it counted, Samsonov stopped all but one of 32 shots, posting a .969 save percentage. 

Related: Worst Toronto Maple Leafs Trades

If not for his stellar play in Game 6, the Maple Leafs might have found themselves playing a deciding Game 7 for the eighth year in a row. 

While Samsonov posted just so-so numbers overall in the series (.900 save percentage and a 3.14 goals-against-average), his stats were much better when the team won. In the four wins, he had a .919 save percentage and a 2.11 goals-against-average.

Ilya Samsonov Toronto Maple Leafs
Ilya Samsonov, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Samsonov’s numbers overall were not that bad when you consider he allowed six goals in 40 minutes in his first playoff game after sitting for eight days to close out the regular season.  

Player Six: Morgan Rielly

After scoring just four goals in 65 games in a regular series, Morgan Rielly scored three goals in six games in this series. He is second in goals among defensemen in the 2023 Playoffs, behind Brandon Montour of the Florida Panthers. Rielly also had five assists to give him eight points in the postseason, good enough for second place in scoring amongst NHL defensemen. He is two points shy of the Oilers’ Evan Bouchard, who leads all defensemen with 10 points. 

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Rielly set a record by assisting on all four Maple Leafs goals in the second game of the series. He scored the overtime winner in Game 3 to put the Maple Leafs up 2-1 in the series. He also scored the game-tying goal in Game 4 to send that game into overtime.  

Rielly assisted on Tavares’ series-winning overtime goal and also provided the screen that prevented Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy from playing the shot cleanly. 

Player Seven: William Nylander

William Nylander is the sixth Maple Leaf to score at more than a point-per-game pace in the playoffs. He has two goals and five assists and assisted on three of the four goals Toronto scored in Game 4’s comeback 5-4 win after being down 4-1 late in the game. 

Conn Smythe Choices So Far

The Conn Smythe Trophy for the most valuable player in the playoffs is voted on by the members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association immediately after the final Stanley Cup game.  

We could see any of the above seven players receiving votes.  

Related: Ex-Maple Leafs Frederik “Goat” Gauthier: Where Is He Now?

As for our choices, collaborator Stan Smith thinks the choice among Maple Leafs in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs is between Rielly and Samsonov, with a slight edge to Rielly. 

The Old Prof’s choice is between three players. His order is Samsonov as the leader, with Matthews second and Rielly third.

A Lot Can Change between Now and the End of the Run

A lot can happen, and a lot can change, between now and whenever the Maple Leafs’ postseason run ends. Any one of these players could do something significant in the upcoming games. As the importance of each game grows and as each round progresses. There could be someone not presently on the radar who could step forward.  

Hopefully, we will get the chance to revisit this discussion after the Maple Leafs win Round 2. 

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]