With less than ten regular season games remaining, the Toronto Maple Leafs are in the postseason. Every point brings them closer and closer to a playoff berth, a place many pundits thought they wouldn’t be anywhere close to at this point in time. After all, the rebuild had recently started and this was considered the second official year.
After all, the rebuild had recently started and this was considered the second official year.
The team’s success can largely be attributed to the crop of rookies that take to the ice every night. The Maple Leafs boast arguably the strongest contingent of young players and are led by the likes of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander.
They regularly push play and are relied upon to be the catalyst for the team’s offense. With those three setting the pace and rewriting record books, the Maple Leafs are in for a wild ride in an attempt to make the playoffs.
Auston Matthews on the Cusp
There was a gigantic amount of fanfare when Auston Matthews was drafted first overall by the Leafs this past June. The team had only seen one other first overall pick in its history and that situation turned out extremely well for the Blue and White.
The draft pick turned into Wendel Clark, a fan favourite and eventual Leafs captain, who played with intensity, passion and displayed his heart on his sleeve every night. Clark scored 34 goals and 11 assists or a grand total of 45 points his rookie year in the NHL.
Auston Matthews records his 60th point of the season, moving into 3rd place on #Leafs all-time rookie scoring list.
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) March 24, 2017
That Leafs rookie goal record has stood since the 1985-86 season and was showing no signs of being broken. That was until Matthews showed up.
Matthews is right on the verge of making more of his own history. He’s sitting one goal shy of Clark’s record and still has nine games remaining on the schedule. It would be a monumental piece of history for the rookie, who recently hit the 60 point mark in his debut NHL season.
Magic Mitch’s Vision
Mitch Marner has officially put the doubters to rest. The former London Knight is arguably one of the Leafs best players on a game by game basis and continues to enthrall fans with his passing, speed and vision.
Babcock: "I didn't even know Mitch Marner could make the team, to be honest with you"
Mitch now w 40 assists to tie franchise rookie record
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) March 24, 2017
Continuing to rewrite Leafs history, Marner tied a record that had stood for 73 years. After being credited with his 40th helper on James van Riemsdyk’s goal against New Jersey, Marner was able to match Gus Bodnar’s rookie assist total from 1943-44.
It’s an amazing feat, especially for a player who many believed wasn’t big enough to play in the NHL. Marner will have a chance to move into sole possession of the record when the Leafs visit the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night.
Red Hot Nylander
Not to be outdone by Marner’s record-tying night, William Nylander decided to enter his name into the history books as well. No first-year player has been hotter than Nylander down the stretch and he’s both setup and scored some huge goals for the Leafs.
Since January 1st, the top three rookie scorers in the league are Matthews with 30 points, Marner with 31 and Nylander with 32. No player has been hotter and Nylander can now officially add his name to the history books.
In the Leafs most recent win over the Devils, the crafty Swede extended his point streak to ten games, which broke the record set by Gus Bodnar, Bob Nevin and Dan Daoust. The former eighth overall pick now owns the longest point streak by a rookie this season.
With an assist on Josh Leivo’s man advantage goal in the first period, Nylander also tied Daoust’s rookie record for power-play points with his 25th.
A Winning Mentality
All three players were asked about their recent hot streaks. They each answered the question by referring back to the team and their teammates as a whole. Brendan Shanahan and the entire Leaf front office and coaching staff have created a great culture with this young team.
Matthews, Marner and Nylander were each asked about their good play/records tonight. Each answered by talking about the team/teammates.
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) March 24, 2017
They all understand that they are a team. They work together and share the workload. They are each treated as the face of the franchise and they have each other’s backs. The management team is creating a culture of winning and success. The early returns are extremely promising.
The success of the rookies has been incredible to watch. They are on an unparalleled run that has seen the Leafs leap back into a playoff spot in the Atlantic division.
Having your name in the history books is a nice touch. But all that success won’t mean a thing if the Leafs don’t find themselves in the postseason in the very near future. Everyone will need to step up and battle to fuel the late winning streak that could amount to a playoff berth.