Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Marner, Matthews, Bunting & Steeves

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at Mitch Marner’s athletic abilities that extends past the ice surface. Second, I’ll take a look at Auston Matthews’ unique skills on the ice. I marvel at how good a player he is. Can he get better? Of course, and I’ll share why I think he can.

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

Third, as I write about Matthews, I’ll also take a look at the third member of that first line Michael Bunting. I’ll go out on a limb to make some predictions about how that line – given all three remain healthy – will perform this season.

Finally, I’ll take a look at what Alex Steeves might bring to the Maple Leafs’ roster and suggest why he might be a surprise addition to the roster out of training camp.

Item One: Mitch Marner Goes Deep with the Blue Jays

Who knew? Mitch Marner can also play baseball. 

Marner was a guest of the Toronto Blue Jays before their game against Cleveland Guardians on Friday. During his visit, like any young fan, he had to be thrilled to be on the field. He got to hang out with the major league baseball players and take batting practice with the team. 

In itself, that’s neat. However, interestingly Marner showed himself to be a gifted athlete who has skills outside of hockey. During batting practice he parked one deep into the left field seats. 

The Blue Jays shared some photos on social media.

As I noted, who knew the Maple Leafs forward had skills on the diamond in addition to his skills on the ice?

Item Two: Will Auston Matthews Score 60 Goals This Season?

Maple Leafs mega-star Auston Matthews had an amazing 2021-22 season. He scored 60 goals and added 46 assists (for 106 points). But could he put together an even better season?

There’s really no reason he can’t. In fact, Maple Leafs’ fans will recall that Matthews didn’t start the season on time. He was suffering nagging wrist injuries and had surgery just a year ago yesterday (August 13, 2021). That pushed back the start of his season for several games.

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The fact is that the Maple Leafs’ best player hasn’t played more than 73 games in a season since 2016-17 (his rookie season). Some of those missed games were the entire NHL dealing with a pandemic, but the rest was mostly injury-related. 

Three things give Matthews a chance to have an even better season in 2022-23. First, and obviously, he’s maturing as a player. He’s actually learning how his skills fit into the game and he’s gaining the on-ice smarts that would help him leverage this added experience toward building the best version of himself. 

Auston Matthews Mitch Marner Celebrate Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner Celebrate a Goal (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

Second, he’s uniquely skilled, uniquely intelligent, and uniquely sized. In other words, he has great hockey skills; he has a great hockey IQ; and, he’s blessed to be big and strong. That trio in itself is hard to beat.

Finally, he has great linemates. Playing with Marner is a gift that keeps on giving. It helps Matthews’ abilities shine even brighter. Their skills work well together. 

But adding Michael Bunting to that first line has been fortuitous. Bunting’s fit as Matthews’ left-winger makes the Maple Leafs’ top line one of the best in the NHL. Given what I see as Bunting’s hard-working nature, desire, and growing experience, I can see all three evolving together into something better than last season. 

Remember, it took a while before Nick Ritchie was moved down the pecking order and Bunting was moved up to the first line. It now seems to be a given that this first line will remain intact.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Ritchie Gets One More Chance after Clifford Trade

My prediction is that Matthews will not score 60 goals again, but he’ll reach 110 points. I also predict Marner will match Matthews’ 110 points. Finally, I predict that Bunting will score 25 goals and become a point-a-game player.

Item Three: Is Alex Steeves Ready to Make the Maple Leafs Roster?

In his post today, the LeafsNation writer Jon Steitzer took a look at what 2022 prospects might be most ready to make the Maple Leafs’ roster this season. High on his ranking of NHL-ready prospects was Alex Steeves. 

Steeves is an undrafted young player from New Hampshire. He played three seasons at the University of Notre Dame before signing with the Maple Leafs’ organization. Last season with the Toronto Marlies, Steeves scored 23 goals and added 23 assists in 58 games. He also played three games with the Maple Leafs when team members were under COVID protocol and registered an assist in those games.

Alex Steeves Toronto Marlies
Alex Steeves, Toronto Marlies (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Steitzer’s point was that, although other prospects in the Maple Leafs’ organization might be more exciting (Pontus Holmberg, for example), Steeves is the one prospect who could make the Maple Leafs’ roster out of training camp. 

Steeves value to the team is what Steitzer calls “a poor man’s Alex Kerfoot.” He can fit into the lineup wherever he’s needed and offers solid value in any spot. Like Kerfoot, he’ll probably never be the brightest star on the team, but he’s useful wherever the team needs him. As a result, he’ll be a valuable 13th forward. 

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Kadri, Campbell, Mikheyev & Kid Line

All these might be reasons the youngster wasn’t drafted; however, it doesn’t mean he can’t have a long and productive NHL career. Nothing Steeves does is off-the-charts special, but he provides solid play and versatility, which is value in itself. 

If Steeves can show enough strength during training camp, he can provide value at a salary-cap hit of $834,167. I hope he does. I’d love to see more of the team’s prospects have a chance to play.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

I have been hoping to do a prediction piece for Maple Leafs’ players for the coming season, but I’m not sure there’s a mood for it right now. That said, I invite anyone who’d like to throw in some predictions to the Conversation Section of the post. Thanks in advance.

By the way, in our recent post about the Maple Leafs’ growing physicality, we messed up. We read and published a statistic incorrectly. A number of readers cared enough to comment on that mistake in the Conversation section. 

Thank you to those who took the time to point out the error. I understand people will agree or disagree with our take on things, but we try to not make errors where we just mess up. Our bad.

In general, thanks to readers who work with writers to make this site and our individual posts more credible. A good hockey conversation is such a great sport.

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