Maple Leafs Panel is a weekly feature that is published every Monday here on The Hockey Writers. It is a feature where THW Toronto Maple Leafs correspondents Lukas Hardonk, Mark Ascione and Alex Mamalis answer three questions that concern the Maple Leafs each week. To catch up on previous editions, click here.
This week, we round out the season with a Maple Leafs awards edition. Make sure you’re following Lukas on Twitter for the release of the full Maple Leafs Panel off-season schedule.
No. 1 – Team MVP
Lukas Hardonk: I would have to select Phil Kessel. He erased a lot of doubt that people had and showed that he can be a prolific scorer in the NHL with the right linemates.
Mark Ascione: My MVP is Phil Kessel. Career highs numbers, improved defensive play, still produced without Lupul and mostly avoided the long scoring slumps. He also seemed much more engaged all season.
Alex Mamalis: My choice for most valuable player is Dion Phaneuf. Averaging over nearly 25 minutes a night while pitching 44 points in offensively, this is an easy decision for me. Especially considering he was playing with a largely incompetent partner in Gunnarsson.
No. 2 – Most improved player
Lukas Hardonk: How could you not select Joffrey Lupul? He carried late-season success from 2010-2011 into this season and showed that his career is far from over after a back injury that had people thinking otherwise. Now we must wait to see if he can build upon this season under new coach Randy Carlyle.
Mark Ascione: I’ll say Tyler Bozak. He also posted career numbers, improved his plus/minus rating and established himself as the guy to play with Kessel and Lupul. He still should be a third line centre, but he had a much better year this season.
Alex Mamalis: For most improved, I anoint Jonas Gustavsson. An odd choice I know, but remember that he barely played half a season in 2010-2011 due to his porous play. For him to last the whole season and to have certain points of productivity within, he gets my vote even if he won’t be in Toronto next season.
No. 3 – Best forward
Lukas Hardonk: Mikhail Grabovski has the ability to shift around the lineup, plays various roles and managed to keep up a nice scoring pace over the course of the season. He also gave the Leafs some flexibility down the middle which allowed the team to do some experimenting.
Mark Ascione: Mikhail Grabovski was the best centre, came close to matching his previous highs and was asked to do it with a number of different linemates. He played in a lot of different situations and generally always brings an enthusiastic effort.
Alex Mamalis: Phil Kessel is the obvious choice for best forward in my opinion. He was scoring at a point-per-game pace, lead Toronto’s scoring charge and can be credited with revitalizing Lupul’s career. I don’t think there’s anyone else that comes close to him in this category.
No. 4 – Best defenceman
Lukas Hardonk: This award has to be given to Jake Gardiner solely based on consistency. Carl Gunnarsson and Dion Phaneuf also showed the same trait, but not like Gardiner did. For a rookie, this is quite an accomplishment at the NHL level.
Mark Ascione: Carl Gunnarsson. Not flashy, not physical, but just night-in, night-out the steadiest and most consistent defender this season.
Alex Mamalis: He was my MVP and he’s my best defenseman as well, for largely the same reasons. Toronto’s defensive team would’ve been porously horrific without Phaneuf and I think the team is eliminated from the playoff race weeks earlier if not for him.
No. 5 – Most surprising
Lukas Hardonk: Again, Jake Gardiner. Coming out of college to play in the NHL is one thing, but it’s another to do it while entering a hockey market like Toronto. He was arguably the team’s best defenceman and even anchored the back-end at times.
Mark Ascione: Jake Gardiner. I really had no idea he could be as good as he looks to be. He made some rookie errors, but he’s very mature and has some scary-good offensive skills.
Alex Mamalis: I’d like to say Jake Gardner, but that’s the obvious choice. I like to be out of the norm, so I’m selecting Nikolai Kulemin. Would you have guessed he wouldn’t even crack 10 goals this season?