The Athletic recently published their rankings of NHL players. Touted as one of the NHL’s most thorough rankings, the article used multiple sources to come up with its final results. It is a long read but well worth it. (from “NHL Player Tiers: Why Connor McDavid leads our Top 100 rankings for 2022-23,” The Athletic NHL Staff, The Athletic, 15/09/2022).
There are five Toronto Maple Leafs’ players mentioned in the article, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, John Tavares, and Morgan Rielly. The article made us consider what our own individual rankings of Maple Leafs’ players would be within their own team. This is how Stan Smith and The Old Prof (Jim Sr.) ranked them.
Stan’s Ranking of Maple Leafs’ Players
#1 Auston Matthews
For Stan, this was not even close. No reasons or discussion is needed.
#2 Mitch Marner
Not on the same level as Matthews but still a step above the rest.
#3 Morgan Rielly
Stan placed Rielly third for the simple reason he’s the Maple Leafs’ best defenseman. He averages close to 24 minutes a game, plays on their #1 power play and kills penalties. He led the Maple Leafs’ defense in scoring last season by 40 points (68 points to TJ Brodie’s 28).
#4 John Tavares
While Tavares’ and William Nylander’s numbers were extremely close, Tavares is the better all-around player.
#5 William Nylander
At this point in his career, Nylander has more talent and potential than Tavares. He still has a ways to go to overtake Tavares in his value to the team.
#6 TJ Brodie
The Maple Leafs’ #2 defenseman, and their best at playing defense. He makes anyone he partners with better.
#7 Alex Kerfoot
This was close between him and Michael Bunting. Stan gave the edge to Kerfoot because of his overall game and his versatility. He’s better defensively, can play up and down the lineup, and is a key part of their penalty kill.
#8 Michael Bunting
The perfect player to complement Matthews and Marner. Bunting plays one role on that first line but plays it very well.
#9 Mark Giordano
This is where things get tough. Despite playing on the Maple Leafs’ fourth pair, Stan ranked Giordano ahead of Muzzin partially because Muzzin struggled last season and partially for Giordano’s ability to help less experienced defensemen on the team. If Muzzin struggles out of the gate in 2022-23, Stan could see Giordano replacing him in the top four.
Related: 7 Cool Things About Auston Matthews
#10 Jake Muzzin
This was a difficult choice. In previous seasons, Muzzin would have fought with Rielly for the #1 defenseman. Muzzin’s game slipped badly last season. A lot of that was due to multiple injuries.
#11 Tie Timothy Liljegren / Rasmus Sandin.
As of January 1, 2022, Sandin easily ranked ahead of Liljegren. With Sandin’s injury and Liljegren’s great last half of the 2021-22 season, it’s difficult to pick one as better than the other.
#13 David Kampf
Kampf gave head coach Sheldon Keefe a third-line center he could play against the top two lines of opposing teams, and a player he could give nothing but defensive zone starts. Kampf seems both happy doing it and is excelling in the role.
#14 Pierre Engvall
Engvall played an important role alongside Kampf on the shutdown third line. Stan could see Engvall possibly getting a chance on the left wing of the second line this upcoming season. He has the potential to be a 20-goal scorer.
#15 Justin Holl
At this point in time, Holl is what he is. He’s not going to get much better than he is now. Stan placed both Liljegren and Sandin ahead of Holl more for their potential than for their game at this moment. If these two are to be the future of this defense, they need playing time to develop. In Liljegren’s case, his ice time will have to come ahead of Holl’s.
#16 Wayne Simmonds
Stan could have easily placed Simmonds and Kyle Clifford in a draw. Simmonds finishes ahead of Clifford more for his past accomplishments. If he can stay healthy and reach a fraction of his past production, he’s more valuable to this team than Clifford.
#17 Kyle Clifford
Clifford brings toughness but little else. Stan will be surprised if Clifford doesn’t find himself on waivers prior to the start of the regular season. He will be equally surprised if he doesn’t clear waivers.
The Old Prof (Jim Sr.’s) Rankings of Maple Leafs’ Players
#1 Auston Matthews
I agree with Stan, Matthews is a generational player. He’s going to be extremely fun to watch as he matures into what he will eventually become.
#2 Mitch Marner
To be transparent, it took me some time to come around with Marner. I couldn’t forget his protracted salary demands and negotiations. That said, about the middle of last season, I came to not forget but ignore that. Marner is really a great player. I don’t think he’s worth his salary, but he’d be the best player on many other NHL teams.
#3 John Tavares
I don’t think we value Tavares enough because he hasn’t been with the team since he was a young player. In addition, his contract pays him for what he did in New York and not what he’s done in Toronto. Still, he’s a Hall of Fame player who’s still producing.
#4 Morgan Rielly
Rielly’s a favorite Maple Leafs’ player (and person). He’s the Maple Leafs’ best defenseman and does exactly what Stan noted. He’s also great in public with the media and represents the organization well.
#5 Mark Giordano
Giordano’s far past having a breakout season, but he’s hugely valuable to this team. And, he’s still a great player. Like Tavares, I appreciate players whose presence in the lineup makes a difference for the team and their teammates. Giordano is just that. He’ll make anyone who plays with him better. His being here could improve the team for years to come even after he’s retired.
#6 William Nylander
I like Nylander. But it’s also hard to figure him out. I hope he has as great a season as he’s capable of having. I agree with Stan that he has talent and potential. He might just be the tipping point in Maple Leafs’ postseason success.
#7 TJ Brodie
For me Brodie is a calm presence on the blue line. He’s a perfect partner for Rielly or any other offensive defenseman.
#8 David Kampf
Kampf is amazing at what he does. He’s given the team a third-line that plays effectively enough to stop pucks from going into their own net. He’s also good enough to score, as he did during the postseason against the Tampa Bay Lightning. In addition, he seems happy enough in that role. He helps the team – lots.
#9 Michael Bunting
Bunting plays an honest game and is, as Stan notes, a perfect hard-working partner for Matthews and Marner. Right now, he’s a growing into the player he might become and he’s been sheltered a bit on the first line to mature. Where will his game grow?
#10 Alex Kerfoot
Unlike Bunting, it’s easy to know exactly what the Maple Leafs have in Kerfoot. His overall game is solid, but not spectacular. He’s good on defense, smart enough to anticipate and break up the other team’s offense, and can play in many places in the lineup. He never seems to get injured, but covers other injuries.
#11 Jake Muzzin
I hope Muzzin’s postseason was what he can do when he’s healthy. I look for his game to improve. He brings more to the team than just on the ice, and the team – especially in the postseason – is much better when he plays.
#12 Pierre Engvall
Like Stan, I wouldn’t be surprised if Engvall rose in the lineup, perhaps as high as the second-line left-winger. If he’d only play consistently physical game, his upside would be higher than fans believe.
#13 Tie Timothy Liljegren / Rasmus Sandin.
Because Stan listed these two together, I will as well. Given what’s transpired with Sandin’s contract negotiations, I have no idea what to expect this season. I expect Liljegren to mature as a player – perhaps with Giordano’s help.
#15 Justin Holl
No disagreement with Stan about Holl. He’s valuable to the team because of his c0mplementary play and his value contract.
#16 Wayne Simmonds and Kyle Clifford
I agree with Stan that Simmonds and Clifford are on the bottom. Simmonds still has good hand/eye coordination and can score in close. Clifford doesn’t have that skill. I am uncertain what will happen to these two veteran warriors. I appreciate them for what they bring to the team. But their times might be past.
With no returning goalies (not counting minor leaguers), Stan and I can’t rank Matt Murray or Ilya Samsonov. We need to see how they play in their new surroundings before we can give either goalie a rank.
[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf