You couldn’t necessarily say the same thing about every Leaf, but Zach Hyman showed up to play last night. Scoring the Leafs’ only goal late in the first period, his 1-1 marker gave the Leafs a shining. Of course, they’d concede the game’s next four goals, leaving Game 1 of the first round with a lopsided loss that left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth.
But let’s take a look at the goal and examine the effort that put the Leafs on the board for the only time last night.
The play starts innocently enough, with a chip out of the Leafs’ zone by Connor Brown after Morgan Rielly gets the puck behind the team’s net. Zdeno Chara has a bad pinch, and then Hyman then wins a footrace against a pair of Bruins to gain a 1-on-1 situation against a helpless Tuukka Rask after he crosses the crease and fires the backhand home. It was, in short, a quintessential Zach Hyman goal. Hard work, nothing pretty, but a great forecheck and making something out of nothing. Strap on those boots and head to the construction site. Log those hours in the mill. For a Toronto-born kid, Zach Hyman sure has a lot of farm-boy quality to him.
Maybe it’ll be the only goal he scores all series. After all, his 15 goals over the course of the season average out to one about every five and a half games.
And after being stapled to Auston Matthews virtually since day one of the the latter’s career, it looks like they’ll be separated for at least the start of tomorrow night’s game.
Leo Komarov moves up to play with Matthews and Marleau moves back to centre.
Today’s Leafs lines:
— Jonas Siegel (@jonassiegel) April 13, 2018
Hyman’s story is both a traditional and a fairly unique one. Like many, he grew up playing in the Greater Toronto Hockey League. However, he chose the OJHL route before he headed off to the University of Michigan, became a 5th round draft pick, and was acquired by the Leafs in a trade for Gregg McKegg, who’s since been in three NHL organizations and has spent about equal amounts of time at the AHL and NHL levels. As both players are age 25 (and considering Florida placed him on waivers before Tampa Bay claimed him last season), it’s pretty clear to declare Hyman’s acquisition a success story in Toronto.
Zach Hyman won’t likely be the make or break factor in this series, as at the end of the day, there’s players with more talent and more skill on both sides of the ice. But with three more years left on his contract, he’s likely here to stay, and he’s a reliable top-six contributor who’s clearly shown he’s capable of handling the big moments. Zach Hyman isn’t elite, but he’s pretty darn good, and every play he makes like the one he did last night gives the Leafs just a little extra edge in their chances of winning this series.