If you like watching exciting hockey, look no further than the Toronto Maple Leafs. They are a team that is still in the midst of a rebuild, but on most nights, you can’t tell that by watching them.
A huge reason for their early resurgence is the fact that the club is led by numerous rookies every single night. They’re not playing sheltered minutes either, as almost every single one is a major contributor up and down the lineup.
Not only are the rookies surviving, they are thriving in the NHL. One great example is Zach Hyman, the player acquired by the Leafs from the Florida Panthers last year.
He has been instrumental in shaping the Leafs penalty kill, and recently set a Leafs rookie record by scoring his third short-handed goal of the season.
The exciting part is that this is all just the tip of the iceberg with these young guns.
Matthews Continues to Rise
Auston Matthews has continued to prove that he’s on another level. The most recent first overall pick has been nothing short of a marvel whenever he’s on the ice.
He’s handling tough minutes against top flight competition while being a centre, which is regarded as one of the toughest positions to master.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) February 8, 2017
He’s also centering a line composed of all rookies and hasn’t looked out of place once. He’s the Leafs leading goal scorer, and recently picked up his 25th of the year. The American is the first Leafs rookie to score 25 goals in a single season since Sergei Berezin in 1996-97.
Matthews is also chasing Leafs great Wendel Clark for the Maple Leafs rookie goal scoring record. Clark hit 34 back in 1985-86, and if Matthews continues to play well, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that by season’s end, the record book will need to be rewritten.
Who Will Be Crowned Top Rookie?
Deciding who wins the Calder trophy as the NHL’s top rookie this year will be a very difficult task. It’s an extremely strong crop of rookies this season that features the likes of Matthew Tkachuk, Matt Murray and defenseman Zach Werenski.
On the Maple Leafs side, there are a ton of names to consider. William Nylander, drafted eighth overall in 2014, is having himself a strong season with 14 goals and 35 points to his credit. Nikita Zaitsev is another candidate. The Russian blueliner has easily transitioned into the NHL and now logs prominent minutes on the Leafs top pairing.
The top three in most people’s mind are Patrick Laine, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. The prolific plays of Laine and Matthews have been on display all season long, as fans attempt to coherently sort out which is the better player.
Marner is also in the discussion and for very good reason. At the beginning of the year, there were many who doubted Marner’s ability to make the NHL and the former London Knight has now put all doubts to rest.
Is there anything Mitch Marner can't do? pic.twitter.com/N2iAJMJHxn
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) February 8, 2017
He has 14 goals and 32 assists for 46 points and leads both the rookie scoring race and the Maple Leafs in overall points. His motor never stops running and he routinely makes amazing plays at both ends of the ice.
It’s going to be an extremely tight race, as this year’s crop of rookies is amongst the strongest fans have seen in recent years. It’s going to be incredibly interesting to see exactly how close the final totals will be for all the players involved.