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Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Comparing these Leafs to those Jets

As you’ve probably already seen, the Toronto Maple Leafs had another one of those super cool rookie stats pulled out of a book last night. When William Nylander picked up his 50th point of the season, the blue and white became the first team in 24 years to have three rookies hit the mark, with over a dozen games remaining in the season.

The team they lined up with? None other than the 1992/93 Winnipeg Jets.

All three players involved in the youth-injected season for the Jets went on to have fantastic NHL careers. Alexei Zhamnov was a solid all-around forward with his share of great seasons, Keith Tkachuk’s 538 goals make him Hall of Very Good material, but the real headliner here is Teemu Selanne. On top of having the best career of the bunch, he had what’s been heralded as the greatest rookie season in history, scoring 76 goals and adding 56 assists for a whopping 132 points in 84 games. The others were no slouches, though; Zhamnov put up 72 points in 68 games, and Tkachuk had 51 in 83.

Those are great numbers, but there’s certainly a case to be made that Toronto’s trio has already come up with the better cumulative season. Here’s what happens when you use Hockey Reference’s era-adjusted points system to put the current state of the league in line with how the game was in 1993; a year considered by many to be the peak of the last gasp of structureless, all-in offence.

Already, it’s a lot tighter. The left four columns are at all situations, while the right four are at even-strength.

    All Situations Even Strength
Player GP G A PTS PTS/G G A PTS PTS/G
Teemu Selanne 84 62 52 107 1.27 42 29 67 0.8
Alex Zhamnov 68 20 38 58 0.85 14 25 39 0.58
Keith Tkachuk 83 23 18 41 0.49 13 13 27 0.32
Auston Matthews 69 41 31 72 1.04 34 16 50 0.72
Mitch Marner 64 23 50 72 1.13 19 30 48 0.76
William Nylander 68 24 42 66 0.97 12 24 36 0.52
Jets Totals 235 105 108 206 0.88 69 67 133 0.57
Leafs Totals 201 88 123 210 1.04 65 70 134 0.67

With 34 games remaining, Toronto already has the edge in both all situations and even-strength production when adjusting for era. Selanne is still the star, and nobody’s touching his goal share, but the big three all get ahead of Zhamnov and get closer to Teemu than they look on the present surface. Matthews and Marner close the gap even further at even strength, while Nylander’s assignments have led to him being more of a powerplay specialist this year.

It’s a very, very good look, and one that only gets better when you consider their development trajectories. Toronto’s trio includes a pair of 19-year-olds and a 20-year-old, who are in their Draft+1 (Matthews), Draft+2 (Marner), and Draft+3 (Nylander) years. Winnipeg’s core, much like the rest of hockey at the time, was a few years older. Selanne was a Draft+5 coming in at 22 years old. Zhamnov was also 22, but not picked for two more years, making him technically in his third post-draft year. Tkachuk, the youngest at 20 years old, was a Draft+3.

So there was a vast amount of extra development experience with Winnipeg’s group. Selanne got to play one more year of Finnish junior before playing three seasons of pro hockey in SM-liiga, and finally then made the jump. Zhamnov came over after playing three years and a handful of games in the Russian Super League; two of which came post-draft. Tkachuk had a year of college, a year of playing full time for the US National team (including a World Juniors and Olympics), and a stub-season with the Jets before joining on full time. Not to discount the games that Toronto’s big three played with Zurich, London, and Modo/the Marlies respectively on the way up, but there was a lot less high-level play handed to them post-draft compared to Winnipeg’s trio. They were older and more seasoned from the start.

Yet, here we are. This group of kids, compared to the state of the league around them, could call it a year right now and have had just as good of a combined season as a trio that played about 3500 games and scored over 3000 points over the course of their careers. That’s seriously impressive. Like DragLikePull wrote in his post a couple of days ago, it might be time to step back and take in just how incredibly rare and fantastic an injection of fresh talent like this is. We’re talking once in a lifetime stuff here.