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Photo Credit: Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF images

Highs and Lows for 2019: The Top Six Wingers

Last summer, I did a series that went over all of the Leafs who were likely to play in the NHL that season and explored the floors and ceilings of their upcoming season. And, in the content starved month of August, I’ve decided to bring it back again.

Much like last time, I’ll be looking at the best and worst-case scenarios for all of the Leafs, and in the best-case scenarios, assuming that they won’t be traded and they will be healthy. Obviously, that won’t happen, but it’s easier to assume in this case.

One thing I will be adding is that I will also look at last year’s evaluations and see if they were closer to their floor or ceiling, to give a better idea as to what to expect.

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Today, we will be looking at the wingers on the top two lines for the Leafs. While that would constitute only four wingers, we will be looking at five (Marner, Nylander, Johnsson, Kapanen, and Hyman) since all of them have played a regular role in the top six last season.

Apr 11, 2019; Boston, MA, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Mitchell Marner (16) prepares to take a penalty shot against the Boston Bruins during the second period in game one of the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Mitch Marner

What happened last year? Marner broke out in a big way, leading him to a 94 point season alongside free agent signing John Tavares. Even my most optimistic prediction last year didn’t see this happening, as I had him around a point per game.

Ceiling: Marner’s breakout year at his young age has led many to believe that he will put up point totals like this on a year by year basis. As I explored a bit in the centers article yesterday, Marner’s line was riding a higher shooting percentage than normal. Combine that with the fact that even someone like Sidney Crosby doesn’t consistently put up 90+ points in this era, it’s likely that we don’t see Marner put up the points he did last year again, maybe even ever in his career.

However, that’s not to say that it won’t happen again. The shooting percentage increase could also be the result of two elite players playing with each other, creating space for one another, so on and so forth. With that in mind, it’s not completely far fetched to say he hits these point totals again, optimistically speaking, so I’ll put Marner’s ceiling at an 85-90 point season.

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Floor: Of course, one thing can get in the way of a repeat career year for Marner is how long it takes for him to reach a deal and luckily for us, we have a recent example of a potential floor for a skilled winger who starts his season late.

While I doubt he’ll hit as low as Nylander’s 27 points, it’s not far fetched to say a late start to the season could see him in the 30 point range if he has a similarly slow start. It’s not likely, but the floor has been established.

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What happened last year? As much as I love Nylander, he had a bad year. A really bad year. He had a rough start, and he managed to recover by playoff time, but it didn’t show up in the boxcars. I had set his floor at 61 points, but that was assuming he would have started on time.

Ceiling: I’m very much of the opinion that Nylander and Marner are much closer to the same player than many think. In fact, Marner is closer to Nylander than he his to Matthews. Marner has definitely established himself as the better player, but I still think it’s closer than this season has shown us.

With that in mind, I wouldn’t consider it far fetched to see Nylander put up 80-90 points, especially since he’ll start the year on time, and hopefully play with Matthews all year.

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Floor: Despite his low point totals last season, I find it very hard to imagine that he has a season that bad again, so I won’t even set his floor that low.

But, there is a scenario where Babcock once again doesn’t give him top six minutes, and solely due to ice time and weaker linemates, he doesn’t get as much of an opportunity to put up points.

In that scenario, it could be possible to see him somewhere in the 50 point range, although even then, I’d expect his rate stats to be relatively normal to his career, just his ice time causing his dip in production.

Apr 17, 2019; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Andrea Johnsson (18) pursues the puck with Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug (47) in game four of the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Andreas Johnsson

What happened last year? After a slow start, Johnsson broke out with a 20 goal, 43 point season after seeing a much bigger role in the top six, particularly playing well alongside Auston Matthews. Due to his lack of NHL playing time and a lot of unknown factors playing in, I had his ceiling at 30-60 points, and more or less focusing on him securing a spot in the top nine, which he did.

Ceiling: At 24, Johnsson is starting to enter his prime, so there’s a chance that we may see a bit of an improvement over last season, at least in terms of a ceiling.

He had a great regular season and playoffs, and he particularly played well as the third wheel of the Matthews and Nylander duo in March when they had a bit of a reunion. If we get a full year of the Johnsson-Matthews-Nylander line, there’s potential for a really good year for Johnsson as well.

It wouldn’t be far fetched to say that he can hit the 50 point mark if all goes well, with a rough 25-25 split for goals and assists.

Floor: Of course, up to this point, we only have one year to go off of for Johnsson. For all we know, his rookie season could’ve been a fluke. It’s not likely, but until he has another full season or two under his belt, we won’t know for sure.

What is more likely is the sophomore slump, which usually sees some combination of the league figuring them out and a bit of regression, and we could see a bit of a production drop if that is the case.

However, I don’t expect it to be a colossal drop off, so I’d say at worst, we only see 30 points from Johnsson, but I wouldn’t consider it a likely scenario.

Feb 27, 2019; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Kasperi Kapanen (24) skates in the spotlight during pre-game introductions moments before the start of their game against the Edmonton Oilers at Scotiabank Arena. The Maple Leafs beat the Oilers 6-2. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

What happened last year? Like Johnsson, Kapanen finally had his break out year, especially early in the season when he had an opportunity to play with Matthews, with 20 goals and 44 points. A lot of my predictions had to do with where he was in the lineup, and in my ceiling where he cracked the top nine, he had a 20 goal, 35 point season, so even then, Kappy exceeded my expectations last season.

Ceiling: Much like last year, a lot of Kappy’s ceiling and floor has to do with where he is in the lineup, but instead of top nine or fourth line, it’s whether he’s playing in the top six or on the third line.

One big factor is the Mitch Marner situation, which like Willy’s last year, Kapanen could be a benefactor of. Whether that means he gets Tavares or Matthews, if Marner isn’t in the lineup opening day, Kappy will likely be in the top six.

If that’s the case, plus the fact that he still has a bit of room to grow, it’s not crazy to assume Kappy could see a similar ceiling to Johnsson this season, a 25-25-50 season.

Floor: And then his floor would be a scenario where Mitch is ready to play on opening day, and Nylander gets a chance with Matthews again, leaving Kapanen to play on the third line with players who aren’t Auston Matthews and John Tavares.

While Kappy is a good enough to still produce points regardless of who he’s playing with, I’d imagine there’s a worst case scenario where he ends up in the low 30s, again like Johnsson. It’s not likely, but unlike Johnsson, we actually have evidence to prove that with weaker linemates and less ice time, he doesn’t produce as much (see his 10 points in 55 games to start his career).

Zach Hyman

What happened last year? Hyman continues to prove to us that if you put him alongside good players, he will at least produce at a 30-40 point pace, having a career year last year with 21 goals and 41 points playing alongside Tavares and Marner. My ceiling had as maybe getting 40 points, so I wasn’t too far off, but I wasn’t expecting him to hit 40 again.

Ceiling: I’ve already made note of a potential regression with Hyman’s 2018-19 linemates already, but Hyman particularly could be hit hard by it. While he did have 21 goals, seven of them were empty net goals, not to mention he shot 4.3% above his career average. Even if he gets joined to the hip with Tavares and Marner again, it’s not likely he repeats last year, even from an optimistic perspective.

That’s not factoring in his injury, which will see him miss the first month of the season. Even with a smooth recovery, he still misses 10-15 games to start the season.

Factoring in those missed games and regression, I’d say at most expect him to get 30-35 points, with maybe 15 of those being goals.

Floor: Now, that’s being optimistic about his injury and regression. There’s also a scenario where missing training camp and the first month sees him have a really slow start, like Nylander, and factor in regression and it could get even worse.

I doubt it would spell disaster for Hyman, but we could very well see something as low as 20 points from Hyman, although he has yet to produce that low so far in his career.


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