Maple Leafs’ 5 Best Canadian-Born Players of All-Time

With more than 5,300 Canadian-born athletes having already played in the NHL, the Toronto Maple Leafs have had their fair share of homegrown talent. As an Original Six franchise, entering the league in 1917-18, Torontonians have witnessed hundreds of their national neighbours suit up for the blue and white.

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But who stands out among that crowd? Rather than solely relying on point totals or shutouts to craft this list, there will be some added context to support why each of these Maple Leaf greats deserves such recognition.

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Let’s explore the top-five Canadian-born Maple Leafs of all time. In true Canadian fashion, I’ll apologize in advance if you don’t agree.

5. Mitch Marner (Markham, ON)

Easily one of today’s most creative playmakers, Mitch Marner continues to illustrate why he’s one of the league’s best. The only active athlete on this list, Marner has already made his mark in Toronto’s record books and time will tell just how many more pages he’ll end up writing.

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

Having only played seven seasons to date, Marner already owns two of the franchise’s top six spots for single-season assist totals. That he’s set a pace of over a point per game through that span helps support how Marner already ranks 10th in total production for the organization.

While there are a plethora of former Maple Leafs who had achieved far more than Marner has to this point, the fact that the 26-year-old is still accomplishing through his prime works to his advantage. Yet to win any major individual award or his first Stanley Cup, time is on Marner’s side as he continues to climb Toronto’s all-time ladders.

In fact, as a current Maple Leaf, the Markham native is the only one here who has the opportunity to improve this ranking before he retires. Given his impact thus far, odds are in his favour that he does.

4. Tim Horton (Cochrane, ON)

It wouldn’t be right to have a list of all things Canadian and not include Tim Horton. Although this former Leaf is the reason the popular coffee shop chain exists, he was revered for his impact on the ice well before the restaurant became the national staple it is today.

Tim Horton, Toronto Maple Leafs
Tim Horton, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

One of only three defensemen in Toronto’s top 15 for overall point totals, Horton is the sole Canadian among them. Having accumulated 109 goals and 349 assists with the club, his plus-151 further exemplifies the positive influence he had whenever he was on the ice. It’s also Toronto’s best plus/minus of all time.

What’s more, Horton’s 1,184 games played with Toronto is the most of any defensemen and second among all positions for the franchise. The Hall of Famer won four Stanley Cups through the 20 years he spent as a Maple Leaf and maintains his place among their all-time greats to this day.

Horton would go on to also play for the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Buffalo Sabres. But his best performances remain on the stat lines he earned as a Maple Leaf — the only Canadian franchise he suited up for.

3. Doug Gilmour (Kingston, ON)

One would think Doug Gilmour spent his entire 20-year career in Toronto, given the impression he was able to cement on the city and its fanbase. Gilmour’s passion was second to none and that was on full display through some of the franchise’s most meaningful and memorable playoff runs of the 1990s.

Doug Gilmour Toronto Maple Leafs
Doug Gilmour, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images)

Despite being unable to bring a Cup home for Toronto, Gilmour brought them as close as he was able to before a missed penalty call ruined the rest of that run in 1993. That wasn’t his only impactful performance, either. Gilmour remains the top playoff producer for the franchise to date, of any nationality, having accumulated 77 points through 52 postseason contests.

The centreman’s 452 points through 393 regular-season games in Toronto certainly illustrate his prowess. However, what proves the heights of his overall impact is the fact that he’s the only Maple Leaf to earn the Selke Trophy — awarded to the best two-way player in the game.

To this day, Gilmour is celebrated throughout the city with a type of legendary status that is far from fading. Add that his 127-point campaign in 1992-93 still holds up as the most productive in franchise history and it’s obvious that this Hall of Famer will maintain his hold on Toronto’s most loyal for years to come.

2. Darryl Sittler (Kitchener, ON)

Having spent 12 of his 15-year career in Toronto, Darryl Sittler was granted enough of an opportunity to make the most of his time there. However, a lengthy tenure doesn’t automatically guarantee that production levels will align.

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That said, Sittler certainly accomplished what an offensive forward is supposed to throughout his nearly 850 games with Toronto. One of only three Maple Leafs to reach the 100-point within one campaign, Sittler’s name appears four times on the franchise’s list of top 10 single-season performances.

Sittler’s 916 points place him second on Toronto’s list of all-time totals, behind only Mats Sundin’s 987. Being that Sundin is a native of Sweden, that positions Sittler as the highest-producing Canadian in team history. Although his impact wasn’t enough to earn him more career accolades, Sittler’s dominance throughout the 1970s was enough to land him a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Add in that Sittler owns the record for most points in an NHL game, having earned 10 against the Boston Bruins on Feb. 7, 1976, and that’s reason enough to place him among Maple Leafs royalty. That a Canadian holds that type of elusive record in the game that his national ancestors created is only fitting.

1. Johnny Bower (Prince Albert, SK)

No, Johnny Bower did not collect the most games played, wins, or even shutouts as a member of the Maple Leafs. Each set by another all-time great, Turk Broda. But that doesn’t negate the overall impact he was able to have, let alone the impressive numbers he continually put up, during his 12-year stint in Toronto.

Johnny Bower, Toronto Maple Leafs
Johnny Bower, Toronto Maple Leafs (THW Archives)

Having played 475 games for the organization between 1958-59 and 1969-70, Bower accumulated a record of 219-157-71. 32 of those victories were shutouts. Most impressive, though, is the fact that he was able to maintain a goals-against average (GAA) of 2.50 and a save percentage (SV%) of .922 while in Toronto. Metrics that put him among the elite of both then and now.

An obvious selection for his Hall of Fame class, the all-star had earned two Vezina Trophies along with four Stanley Cups as a member of the Maple Leafs en route to being inducted. Bower was also part of Toronto’s last Cup-winning lineup, in 1967.

While Broda and Bower share a national heritage, what gives the Saskatchewan-born star the edge as Toronto’s all-time greatest Canadian is the combined impact he was able to have both on and off the ice.

“Johnny Bower was the best standup goaltender I’d ever seen, even better than Turk Broda,” former Maple Leafs forward Howie Meeker said on the “Legends of Hockey” TV series. “He played his angles better than anybody else, he stood on his feet better than anybody else, and he stopped the puck very, very well.”

Either would be a justified pick to land in this spot for a variety of reasons unique to their own careers, but that Bower was performing at his peak into his 40s sets him apart. Besides, when it comes to comparing Canadians, being beloved matters and Bower tops that list.

Too Many Maple Leaf Greats

It’s hard to compete against a lineup that includes Marner, Horton, Gilmour, Sittler, and Bower. Yet, one could look to the names omitted and certainly make their case. Far from detracting from what other legends were able to accomplish in Toronto, these are simply the five that rise to the top when reflecting on all that it means to be a Canadian star in this city.

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As is the case with any such ranking, this one is sure to be outdated in the near future. The moment that Toronto hoists its next Stanley Cup, those who helped them get there will be forever immortalized. Expect any Canadian-born players who see their names etched on that year’s trophy to immediately overshadow those who were simply unable to reach that peak as a Maple Leaf.