The Toronto Maple Leafs played a dozen games in February and recorded an impressive 9-2-1 record. The team continues to lead the North Division, as well as the entire NHL. This is all great news for Maple Leafs’ fans. But, this success makes it challenging to come up with just three players to put in The Hockey Writers’ Three Stars. For that reason, I got some input from other Leafs’ writers during the latest Maple Leafs’ Lounge. The three-star conversation starts at 11:30 in the video below.
In January, the stars were award on other factors outside of statistics alone. It would make the process quite predictable to just take the top point-getters each month. We watched every shift, listened to every interview, and came up with different ways to award the stand-out players. As all hockey fans know, it’s not just the top point-producing players that are deserving of acknowledgement.
As you will see in the Maple Leafs’ Lounge discussion, this was the toughest one to reach a consensus on, which is a good thing. We all picked a different defenseman. Our arguments for each were valid but also similar to the other arguments for the each blueliner.
For that reason, I will take the easy way out and split the third star into three pieces. Justin Holl, T.J. Brodie and Jake Muzzin are all deserving of the recognition.
Holl scored his first goal in nearly a year, so it’s not his scoring prowess that gets him on this list. It took four seasons for him to reach 100 NHL games. He was drafted 54th overall in the second round by the Chicago Blackhawks way back in 2010. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound defenceman has taken the long road. Still, he’s become a dependable defender who often draws the top-line match-ups from the competition. It’s nice to see all of his hard work and dedication to the game paying off.
Brodie was the target for Kyle Dubas in the free-agent market. The general manager spoke highly of Brodie’s defensive, responsible play. That type of play has been a perfect match with Morgan Rielly, who is much more likely to jump up on an offensive opportunity. He logs well over 20 minutes a game; twice during February, he had more than 25 minutes of ice-time. That said, you rarely heard his name, which is the perfect defensive defenseman. He is a plus 10 and recorded 20 blocks during the month.
Muzzin gets the nod for the second straight month. It’s hard to find a weakness in his game, perhaps his face. The Woodstock, Ontario boy, took two games off after taking a stick in the face from a follow-through of a shot, causing a fracture. He then put on a full face shield and helped shut out the Edmonton Oilers. Muzzin wears a letter when the Leafs put on the reverse retro jersey. He’s truly shown that leadership, along with grit and toughness, every shift.
Second Star – Mitch Marner
The second and first stars are a bit easier to decide and much more predictable. Marner recorded 18 points in 12 games. But, as stated at the beginning of the article, it’s not all about stats. Marner’s importance to the Leafs grows daily. A perfect example came on February 18. With a comfortable lead, Sheldon Keefe moved Marner to John Tavares’ wing. The captain was struggling, but within one shift, Marner found Tavares for a much-needed goal.
Marner is an elite playmaker who makes the players around him better. I recommend watching the latest Leafs’ Blueprint to see more about “Mitchy” and his importance to the Maple Leafs’ success.
First Star – Auston Matthews
As stated, this pick was predictable and not even debatable. Matthews scored 12 goals in the 11 games he played. He is re-writing Maple Leafs record books, and he is showing no signs of slowing down. There is a real possibility he could get 50 goals in this pandemic shortened season. However, a nagging wrist injury that kept Matthews out of the last game of the month seems to be the only thing that can slow down the Leafs’ sniper. At this pace, we will need to update the Auston Matthews’ Quiz.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.