The Toronto Maple Leafs have been arguably the most exciting team in the entire NHL. The rebuild is in full effect and you can already see the early results of patience and proper player development. The roster features talent up and down the lineup, from the rookies like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner to new goaltender Frederik Andersen.
There have been some hiccups along the way as well. While frustrating, it’s also come to be expected with a young team trying to solidify their identity. With American Thanksgiving just passing, I decided to take a look through the Leafs roster and organization to see what things fans should be thankful about.
This one was easy. The Maple Leafs have arguably the best crop of young talent in the entire NHL this season. Matthews recently broke his goal scoring slump and now has 16 points in 20 games, good for second on the team. He’s tied with former London Knight Mitch Marner, who has been arguably the brightest and most exciting player 20 games in.
Mitch Marner, you nasty. pic.twitter.com/QJtS0DiVSH
— NHL (@NHL) November 18, 2016
William Nylander, the crafty Swede, isn’t far behind and has 15 points over the first 20 games. Zach Hyman has become one of Mike Babcock’s most trusted players and has turned into a wicked forechecking and defensive presence.
Connor Brown and Connor Carrick have both made the jump from the Toronto Marlies and are producing at the NHL level. Nikita Soshnikov has also made it into a handful of games and brings energy and tenacity to his line.
Another name drawing some rave reviews is Russian defenseman Nikita Zaitsev. Scouted and courted last year by Brendan Shanahan and company, Zaitsev is playing in his first season in the NHL and hasn’t looked out of place once. He’s a seasoned pro thanks to his years in the KHL and that has helped make his transition so easy.
He’s got excellent skating and vision and is already carving out a place as one of the top blueliners on the Blue and White.
No Goalie Controversy
If you’ve been a Maple Leafs fan for the last few seasons, there’s a solid chance you have witnessed one or more goaltending controversies. The organization didn’t have a proper number one netminder, which led to the question of whether James Reimer or Jonathan Bernier would be playing night in and night out.
This year is mercifully different. Frederik Andersen, acquired in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks, is the undisputed number one goalie in town. After a bit of a rocky start to his Leafs career, Andersen has settled down and performed extremely well. He now sports a .909 save percentage to go along with his 3.03 goals-against average. He’s also got eight wins so far this season.
Maple Leafs Prospects
The last two drafts, Mark Hunter and the Leafs scouting staff have hit some home runs. They have been able to unearth some gems, both early and late in the rounds. Jeremy Bracco is one such name. The Kitchener Rangers forward is currently ripping up the Ontario Hockey League and has 43 points in 20 games.
His career high in points last year was 63. The way he’s playing right now, that number should be shattered sooner rather than later.
Just when you think Jeremy Bracco’s footwork can’t impress you more than it already does. Watch this: pic.twitter.com/WBe7fmxOQQ
— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) November 24, 2016
Adam Brooks was drafted 92nd overall in last year’s NHL Entry Draft. The skilled forward has been impressive this season and has 33 points in a mere 15 games for the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League.
How about the Toronto Marlies? The powerhouse American Hockey League franchise boasts some great talent including Brendan Leipsic and Kasperi Kapanen. The former leads the Marlies in scoring with 19 points, while the latter isn’t far behind with 14. There’s also defenseman Andrew Nielsen to consider.
The young defender has been outstanding and is looking like the type of player who will one day make the jump up to the big club. His last season in the WHL he scored 70 points in 71 games, an absolutely ridiculous pace for a defenseman. This year with the Marlies he has 11 points in 15 games.
The Future is Bright
The Maple Leafs are a young team trying to figure out their identity. It’s only natural to expect some growing pains from a squad as young as this one. Yes, it’s incredibly frustrating when they blow 3-0 or 4-0 leads and let their opponents claw their way back into games.
It’s a learning curve the team is trying to get under control. There is still pain coming, but for the first time in a long while, you can actually see the light at the end of the tunnel. Sit back and enjoy the exciting players the Leafs have managed to gather this season. Not all franchises are as lucky.