You can’t accuse the 2016-17 Toronto Maple Leafs of being a boring team. One way or another they are exciting to watch. A lot of that excitement stems from the young kids in the lineup. Fans have been starved for years to see some legitimate young talent infused into the roster.
The plan set in motion by Brendan Shanahan has now delivered on that promise. This Leafs squad features three top ten picks all selected by Leafs management. They used to be the team known for missing picks in the draft. That can now be put to rest as the Buds have made some significant strides in both the scouting and management departments.
Marner the Magician
You could make the argument that among Maple Leafs forwards this season the best of the bunch has been Mitch Marner. The former London Knight has proven his critics, who thought he was too small for the NHL, dead wrong. Marner has not only survived, he has thrived early.
His point totals will continue to rise as he grows more and more comfortable with life in the NHL. He started his career with the Leafs quietly, with six points in nine games. He has since found his rhythm and has reeled off nine points in his last seven games. He also has five multiple-point games to his credit.
Greetings, from Mitch Marner.#TMLtalk pic.twitter.com/POB0Ht32Tk
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) November 16, 2016
Part of what makes Marner so good is his ability to see the play developing around him. His vision is extremely good and enables him to make the heads up offensive or defensive play. He’s also relentless on the backcheck and isn’t prone to turning the puck over.
He does all the little things right, which is why he has made a significant impact in the NHL as a teenager. Head coach Mike Babcock is credited as saying, “I’ve never coached a kid that young that good. I’ve never been in that situation before.” It’s high praise that Marner has worked hard to earn.
James van Riemsdyk
The Maple Leafs line of Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk and the aforementioned Marner has been one of the Leafs’ best so far this season. Sure, they’ve had a few bad games. It’s the things they do when they are all clicking that makes a bad game or two a little bit easier to stomach.
As one of the Leafs’ veteran forwards, van Riemsdyk was tasked with coming back from his injury last season and being a good presence for the kids this season. He’s met expectations and has vaulted into a tie with Nazem Kadri for most goals with seven and Marner for points with 15.
Leafs' James Van Reimsdyk had a hat-trick in their 5-2 W over Nashville. They play #FlaPanthers next pic.twitter.com/MTiX10NbHL
— this account will self destruct (@ptp_hockeyOld) November 16, 2016
Scoring three against Nashville certainly helps to pad the stats and van Riemsdyk, who was a force all game long, earned them. That was the American’s second career hat trick and his first as a Maple Leaf. His other three-goal night came when he was still in a Flyers uniform.
Having the uber-talented Marner paired with a couple of veterans like Bozak and van Riemsdyk has seemingly brought out the best in all three. If this line continues to play well together, the results will be great for the Maple Leafs.
Matthews Will Break Scoring Slump Soon
Much hoopla has been made about Auston Matthews and his scoring slump. His four-goal record-setting NHL debut may partially be to blame. It’s not fair to expect four goals a night, or anything close, from Matthews. That is an unrealistic expectation.
He’s still a teenager trying to find his way in the NHL. Despite being a bit snakebitten, Matthews has not been a liability on the ice. Far from it actually. Matthews is almost constantly generating offensive chances. He’s doing all of this while also learning the tricks of the trade of the center position. That includes face-offs and being a dependable defensive presence and anchor for his line.
Auston Matthews is tied for fourth in the NHL in shots on goal with Seguin and Ovi. His puck possession numbers lead the team. Gonna be fine
— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) November 16, 2016
The fact that Matthews is in a tiny slump is being overblown. The most recent first- overall pick currently leads all rookies with 63 shots on goal and consistently ranks near the top in shots and chances for the Leafs from game to game.
Don’t forget all the crossbars and posts he hit in recent games as well. A couple of inches and this discussion isn’t happening. Matthews will break out of his slump soon. If he continues to play well and do all the little things right, the goals will follow.