Things have been looking up for the Toronto Maple Leafs and that could mean big things are in store for 2017-2018. Last season, the club went 40-27-15 and made it to the post-season for the first time in four seasons. They’re ready to take the next step.
“Part of the excitement for our fans is they see something growing,” coach Mike Babcock said, “and to me, their positive support has been fantastic because they see something to believe in now. We’re no different as a team, we’re just going to keep grinding and getting better, and as we do, we’ll get our turn.”
Toronto hasn’t changed much in the off-season, but they did bring in forward Patrick Marleau. With him comes a lot of experience. The 37-year-old signed a three-year contract with the Maple Leafs after spending 19 years with the San Jose Sharks. He has experience with Babcock and is thrilled to be a part of what’s going on in Toronto.
Auston Matthews is one of the key reasons for Toronto’s resurgence in the standings. The 19-year-old had 40 goals in his debut season, leading the league in even strength goals with 32. He had 21 points on the power play and 279 shots on goal. In the playoffs, the Scottsdale native had five points in six games. He averaged 20:18 of ice time in the post-season.
Mitch Marner had 61 points in 77 games with the Maple Leafs last season and found more stability than Matthews on a line with Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk. He led all rookies in assists with 42 and he cracked off 176 shots on goal. The 20-year-old has all the skill to add more scoring in 2017-2018 and is a safe bet for at least 70 points.
William Nylander is yet another piece of Toronto’s young unit. The 21-year-old had 61 points in 81 games, including 22 goals. He led all rookies in power play points with 26 and saw plenty of ice time with Matthews. He registered 205 shots on goal and can slip into any forward position. Like Marner, he’s capable of putting up around 70 points.
Nazem Kadri found himself on the third line in Toronto last season and he thrived in the role, putting up 32 goals for a career-high total and finishing with 61 points in 82 games. The 26-year-old had two points in the playoffs and does everything the Maple Leafs ask of him. He put up 236 shots on goal in the regular season and sees time on the power play.
Jake Gardiner had a career year with 43 points in 82 games last season, including nine goals. He had 13 points on the power play and put together three points in six playoff games. What’s more, he averaged 28:38 of ice time in the post-season. The Minnetonka native has produced in all game situations, but he really gives his team a kick on the power play.
Like Gardiner, Morgan Rielly spent a lot of time on the ice in the playoffs. He averaged 26:53 of ice time a game in the post-season and had five points. In the regular season, the 23-year-old had 27 points in 76 games. He can quarterback a power play and rush the puck up the ice like a fourth forward, but Toronto wants to round him out more as a complete defenceman.
25-year-old Nikita Zaitsev had 36 points in 82 games as a rookie, but injuries kept him to just four games in the post-season. He’s a critical part of the young defensive group in Toronto and averaged two minutes of power play time a game in the regular season. He can pass the puck well and will see more minutes in 2017-2018 as his role with the club expands.
Frederik Andersen won 33 of his 66 starts last season, posting a 2.67 goals against average and a .918 save percentage. The 27-year-old delivered the goods for three seasons in Anaheim prior to his arrival in Toronto and he’s the clear starter, but the Maple Leafs would like to see if he could nudge those numbers up a tick. He had 14 losses in overtime/shootout situations, putting him last overall in that category.
Curtis McElhinney was snagged off waivers from Columbus in early 2017. He went on to start a trickle of games for Toronto, subsequently earning a two-year deal in July. The Ontario native is a quality teammate and covers a lot of the net with his 6’3, 200-pound frame. He may never be a starter in the NHL, but the Maple Leafs have themselves a solid backup nevertheless.