The Toronto Maple Leafs were juggernauts for the first two months of the season, then March hit, and so did a significant slump. The team suffered through two three-game losing streaks, and the once red hot powerplay has gone ice cold. The last month saw Toronto build up as much as a nine-goal cushion in the North Division. This cushion has been hacked as low as one point. That said, there are still plenty of players to pick from for the stars of the month for March. You know the rules. This isn’t just about stats; it’s how the player has impacted the team.
William Nylander has bounced back from a slow start and scored at critical times in a few games. His has reemerged as a threat that teams have to account for at all times.
Auston Matthews leads the league in goals and seems to have fully recovered from his wrist injury. He has 24 goals and 42 points in just 33 games. If it was a regular 82 game season he would be on pace for more than 60 goals.
Jake Muzzin continues to be the shutdown defenceman the Leafs lean on. He played most of the month with a bubble mask on to protect a broken bone in his face.
Third Star – Jack Campbell
Despite battling through a nagging knee injury, Jack Campbell won all four games he was in net in March. In fact, he is 7-0 this season. Often referred to as the nicest guy in hockey, he has been anything but to the opposition. His goals-against average and save percentage is tops in the league for goalies who have played at least five games.
Campbell also gets the nod for this star because he is playing through pain. Sheldon Keefe has talked about managing his netminder’s workload because he is not 100% healthy. All you have to do is watch how the players react when Campbell picks up a win to understand what he means to the club. He has earned the respect of many by continuing to play while rehabilitating a problematic injury. With Frederik Andersen’s status still unclear, the Leafs will be relying on Campbell for the foreseeable future. But how fragile is Campbell’s health remains the concern.
Second Star – Mitch Marner
Mitch Marner should be in the conversation for the Hart Memorial Trophy. In this month alone, he put up 14 points in 14 games. But like we said, it’s not all about stats. The guy is one of the best penalty killers on the team. He averages nearly 23 minutes of ice time a night, and no matter when it is in his shift, he is always a threat to break away from the pack. Add in his sorcery with the stick and how he is often setting up the league’s leading scorer, and you can see why Marner is an easy pick for a star every month.
First Star – Zach Hyman
No other Maple Leaf player has scored more than Zach Hyman from February 27th to March 31st. He’s put up eight goals during that time, seven in March alone. Again, this isn’t all about the stats. Hyman has played and excelled on every line. To start the month, he was on the third line and got Pierre Engvall and Ilya Mikheyev going. He is now back where he belongs on the top line with Matthews and Marner. While his linemates score beautiful goals, Hyman’s are primarily dirty, making him a perfect piece to the line. He is a fierce forechecker and a dependable part of the penalty kill unit.
Add to that, he is a new dad. Baby Theo arrived just a few days after the season started. It seems fatherhood fits Hyman just right. However, there is a problem, Hyman is in the last year of his contract, and his value continues to go up with every game.
There is one more star to give out. The training and coaching staff turned Alex Galcheyuk’s hockey career around. We’ve talked a lot about how this player has rebounded from being a fringe NHLers to a top-six forward for the Maple Leafs. The staff that helped make it happen deserve to be recognized.
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.