The Toronto Maple Leafs are surprisingly doing better than most expected and it’s because of their rookies. Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner are the best rookies in a long time to start their NHL careers with the Leafs. Every game they have been the difference makers for the Leafs and have helped push them into reach of the Wild Card spot.
Those three rookies also lead the Leafs in scoring and have at times led the NHL in points. This also brings the Leafs into contention for the Calder Memorial Trophy for rookie of the year.
51 Years Ago: Leafs’ Last Calder Trophy
The Calder Trophy hasn’t been on the mind of Leafs fans for years, which is probably because the Leafs haven’t had a player win since the 1965-1966 NHL season with Brit Selby. Selby isn’t that notable of a player since he only played 347 NHL games and one of his best seasons was his rookie year, when he finished with 27 points in 61 games to win the Calder.
More memorable Leafs players have won the Calder Trophy like Dave Keon in 1960-1961, Frank Mahovlich in 1957-1958, and Syl Apps in 1936-1937.
Now the Leafs haven’t had a player win the Calder in the modern NHL, but they’ve been close a few times. In the 1985-86 NHL season Wendel Clark came second in voting and lost the Calder Trophy to Gary Suter. More recently in the 2008-09 season Mikhail Grabovski finished third in rookie scoring with 48 points in 78 games, but ultimately lost to goaltender Steve Mason.
The Leafs have struggled with drafting elite talent for years and often underplayed their rookies. So it’s not a surprise that the Leafs are rarely in contention for the Calder. Luckily that has all changed in the last few years for the Leafs by drafting Nylander, Marner and Matthews in consecutive drafts.
The Leafs’ Trio
The Leafs look set to bring home the Calder this season with three of their rookies all vying for the trophy. Matthews has managed to live up to all the initial hype and started his season with a four-goal game. He has continued to be a dominant force for the Leafs every game and has come away with 11 points in 13 games.
But with the spotlight also comes getting extra attention from opposing teams. Matthews has been held goalless for seven games, with his last goal being against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Oct. 25. By being the Leafs’ best player it makes sense that other teams would play their top defenders against him. So now we need to wait and see if Matthews can elevate his game to deal with being the center of attention for other teams.
Nylander’s production has also suffered similarly to Matthews since they play on the same line. So far Nylander has 12 points in 13 games, but also hasn’t scored in seven games since the game against the Lightning. They have both managed to contribute with assists during the goalless stretch, but it’s starting to become worrisome.
If Matthews and Nylander can’t up their game and overcome playing against better opposing defensemen, then they will both quickly drop out of the Calder race. If that happens then the Leafs’ Calder hopes will fall to Marner.
Marner had a slow start to the season, but has quickly caught up to Matthews and Nylander. Chemistry with linemates James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak has certainly helped Marner’s production with 10 points in 13 games.
Hopefully with all the attention on Matthews and Nylander it will give Marner the ability to be a consistent difference-maker.
The trio’s biggest competition for the Calder is the Winnipeg Jets’ Patrik Laine. While the Leafs’ rookies are more focused on playmaking and setting up a goal, Laine is a pure goal-scorer.
Laine currently leads the rookie scoring race with 15 points in 14 games after putting up four points and a hat trick in last night’s game against the Dallas Stars. At this point in the season it’s looking to be Laine versus the Leafs’ trio for the Calder.
It’s still early in the season for the Calder race and so there is a lot of time for things to change. Injuries and trades can still happen and affect how the rookies perform; look no further than Connor McDavid’s shortened season last year. But with three Leafs fighting for the top spot it still gives them the best chance for the Leafs since Clark.