Mike Babcock hints at a future involving more local players

The Toronto Maple Leafs are very excited to have Shawn Matthias on their team, but he might be even more excited than them to be here. Shawn is part of a temporarily dying (lack of success does that) breed of Toronto-era children who grew up cheering for the blue and white, before moving on to a career of their own. Now, he’s beginning to live out the finer details of his childhood dreams; something that Mike Babcock likes, and encourages.

I’ve always been a proponent of not caring whether a player was born in Mimico or Magnitogorsk, as long as you’re fielding the best 20 hockey talents on a given night. But with that said, local ties are a great “icing on the cake” when looking at a players resume. Being close to friends and family is good for anybody’s morale, and could, in theory, help with performance from a psychological perspective. 

As well, it gives the player more reason to be involved in the community, and allows the fans to have a more emotional connection with the team. At the end of the day, these are good things; given two identical players, I’d rather have the one who grew up a Leafs fan while honing his skills in North York than the one who is just looking for another place to play. If Babcock believes he can assemble a quality team with players who have these connections, it’s a good idea.

The Leafs already have a significant amount of local talent. Beyond the aforementioned Connor Brown, Sam Carrick, Peter Holland, Zach Hyman, Josh Leivo, Mitch Marner, Daniel Winnik, and Stuart Percy all grew up in or immediately next to Toronto. Brad Boyes, who is on a PTO at the moment, was originally drafted by the Leafs and raised in Mississauga. Ryan Rupert is from Grand Bend, which is a decent distance away, but within Ontario. Nazem Kadri is from London, but sadly, grew up a Habs fan; though Morgan Rielly growing up a Leafs fan in Vancouver evens that out.

If the Leafs don’t feel that this local talent pool is enough, there are 35 Ontarian players who spent time in the NHL last season who are on pace to hit Unrestricted Free Agency; six of whom have been members of the organization in the past. Some of the bigger names include Eric Staal, Sam Gagner, Chris Stewart, and some guy from the Tampa Bay Lightning.