When you mention the Toronto Maple Leafs to a hockey fan, hearing the name elicits a wide range of emotion. Some would tell you they love the Leafs. Others would say they would cheer for literally anyone else.
There are two words that come to mind, to sum up their 2016-17 season so far. Exciting and frustrating. The excitement stems from the fact that they are the NHL’s youngest team, full of kids who are blossoming into superstars before our very eyes. The frustration occurs when they blow leads or breakdown in their own zone.
The good news it that those are teachable moments for a young squad. Mike Babcock was very clear when he said there will be pain. The rebuild is ahead of its projection so pain and pleasure will occur at the same time. It’s a very cool time to be a fan.
Auston Matthews continues to pile up the points and impress people more and more every single game. His most recent game against the Winnipeg Jets was extremely impressive as he set up three goals including the overtime winner by defenseman Jake Gardiner.
Komarov says Auston Matthews has put Toronto back on the map again as a hockey city.
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) February 22, 2017
Matthews has been in rare form and with his first of three assists against the Jets, he broke the Leafs record for the most points in a season by a rookie teenager. The assist was his 50th point of the year, which allowed him to pass Ted Kennedy’s previous record of 49 which is a mark that has been standing since the 1943-44 season.
Matthews now sits second in rookie scoring with 28 goals and 24 assists for 52 points in 59 games. He’s on pace to shatter more Leafs rookie records including Wendel Clark’s goal mark of 34 and Peter Ihnacak’s points record of 66. Matthews is projected to hit over 70 points, therefore, it is very likely that the Leafs history book will need an update in the near future.
Release the Marchenko
Back on Feb. 4, the Maple Leafs made a waiver claim and were able to secure the services of Alexy Marchenko, a big defenseman from the Detroit Red Wings. Since that time, fans have been eagerly awaiting his debut in the Blue and White.
Connor Carrick, the Leafs rookie defenseman, was injured in the most recent game against the Jets. He did return to the ice after the first period. The team is calling it an upper-body injury. It’s not believed to be serious, but Carrick will miss at least one game which means Marchenko will finally get his chance to shine.
Babcock on Carrick: Obviously he's not going to be playing right away so it gives us a chance to look at Marchenko.
— David Alter (@dalter) February 22, 2017
The Russian blueliner is a 6-foot-3, right-shot defenceman who brings size and skating ability. As a former Red Wing, Marchenko has experience playing under Babcock’s system. He was also a member of the Russian defense corps at last summer’s World Cup of Hockey. Marchenko is signed for the next two seasons at $1.45 million, after which he will become a restricted free agent.
Leafs Looking at Healey?
If you’re an NHL team looking to restock the cupboards for prospects, one intriguing option every year is signing college free agents. There’s no guarantee that they will become something, but it’s cheap and usually worth the risk. Maple Leafs teams of the recent past are a prime example of this phenomenon.
They took a flyer on two players, Christian Hanson and Tyler Bozak. Hanson floundered and never became a regular NHL player. Bozak, on the other hand, has had a fantastic career and has 305 points in 491 games on the Blue and White.
— Penalty Box POV (@penaltyboxpov) February 13, 2017
This year’s crop of college free agents is being described as quite thin. There is, however, one name that is standing out — Josh Healey, is a hard-hitting defenseman playing for (The) Ohio State University.
The Buckeyes’ defenseman is described as an old school NHL blueliner. If you’re a player on the other team, you need to keep your head on a swivel. One NHL scout said his hitting is too hard for the college game and that he would be better suited to the pros. He’s a tough, physical defenseman suitable to a third pairing role.
Healey does have some NHL connections. Back in 2015, he attended the Edmonton Oilers’ summer development camp. The following year he attended the 2016 summer development camps of both the Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators.
Once OSU’s season is wrapped up, you can bet that the Maple Leafs and many other NHL teams will be kicking tires to offer Healey a contract.