The Countdown: Top-5 things to currently love about the Maple Leafs
Photo credit:Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
By Shane Seney29 days ago
We’re back for another rendition of The Countdown and for today’s piece let’s dive into what you should be loving about this season’s Toronto Maple Leafs. It’s been a dramatic roller coaster ride so far and it’s not even the quarter mark of the season. Until last night, the vibes were at a season-low, so let’s take things in a different direction. Here are five things you should be loving currently from the Maple Leafs:
Core Four Carrying the Team
After hearing it from just about everyone outside of Leafs Nation, the ‘expensive’ core four of the Maple Leafs that includes Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander is carrying the team so far this season. How much do you ask? Think about this, Toronto has scored a total of 41 goals through 12 games and the big four have collected 29 of them. 71% of the Maple Leafs offensive output. That’s astonishing, awesome, and concerning all wrapped into one. But since this is a positive piece, we’re going to focus on the astonishing and awesome parts.
Of course, secondary scoring is going to be needed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and there’s some concerning aspects of limited depth scoring but honestly, the Maple Leafs are in such good hands with Matthews, Marner, Nylander and Tavares that there’s really nothing to worry about when it comes to the team’s performance between October and April. They’ll continue to carry to load throughout the rest of the season. Matthews is on pace for over 80 goals, but somehow seeing him scoring 70 is extremely realistic. Contract-year Willy is becoming special to watch with his ability to carry the puck and slow the game down to his pace. Tavares and Marner are both having strong campaigns with the Leafs captain producing a point-a-game, meanwhile #16 has 17 points in 12 games, good for T-4 in the entire NHL.
While there’s lots to chirp at so far this Maple Leafs season, the big guns deserve nothing but praise.
Morgan Rielly is a Great Fifth Wheel
While John Klingberg was getting a ton of attention at training camp, it seemed like many were forgetting about Morgan Rielly. The longest tenured Maple Leaf is having himself a great season as he continues to carry the Leafs defence, and is now starting to get more reps on the first power-play unit.
Rielly has recorded 10 points in 12 games this season, which includes two goals, and his point production is already worlds ahead of last season. The Leafs blueliner has been able to show off his skating ability, his vision and his accurate shot to chip in on offence and to get the team going when they needed it most.
He’s the team’s resident workhorse, playing 24:52 per game. That’s essentially three minutes more than any other Maple Leaf and ranks eighth in the entire NHL. He has found his game this season and looks like he’s in for a massive campaign where 50 points is well within reach. With all the question marks on the blueline in Toronto, it’s becoming more and more obvious that Rielly is a true #1 defenceman and is someone the team will be relying on all season long to produce while playing some significant minutes for head coach Sheldon Keefe.
Matthew Knies is On the Rise
Finally! Matthew Knies no longer has to try and fit into a depth role for the Maple Leafs; he’s been released to shine on the top line with Marner and Matthews. This is a trio that should have been together since day one of training camp, but that’s neither here nor there.
Knies is on the top line now and in his first game slotted alongside #34 and #16 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the former second-round pick registered a goal and two assists and was a +4. If it wasn’t already blatantly obvious, he’s a fit on that line.
This is a line that could be together for the next five years at least if all things go as planned. Knies compliments Marner and Matthews perfectly with his size, skill and ability to hunt down pucks. He has unlimited chemistry with both of the Leafs superstars and it showed so many times against the Lightning and especially here with this behind the back pass to a streaking Matthews:
It’s going to be fun to watch Knies climb up the team stats leaders as he gets more ice time on the top unit. He’s going to finish the season among the league’s best rookies and could be a Calder finalist when it’s all said and done this season.
Noah Gregor Continues to Impress
While he may only have one goal in 12 games, Noah Gregor has been a joy to watch this season. Gregor plays with unlimited speed and tenacity and isn’t afraid to take pucks to the net, which is something the Leafs have struggled with in year’s past.
Gregor turned his professional tryout to a one-year contract and now is turning his fourth-line wing position into several times being moved up a line or two if the coaching staff is looking for a spark. Listen, one point in 12 games is no good, but Gregor brings much more than that to the Leafs and if you don’t happen to notice it, pay more attention to the little things on the ice.
Gregor is great on the forecheck, pressuring defensemen to move the puck. He finishes his check when he’s supposed to and with 27 shots on the season, the former fourth-round pick of the San Jose Sharks has shown he’s not shy to put the puck on net from anywhere. He will continue to bang and crash on the Leafs fourth line, and with David Kampf now back on the line, where he belongs, their defensive stability and production offensively could see a boost. This was a great addition by GM Brad Treliving and deserves more praise.
Leafs GM Is Being Aggressive
After Sam Lafferty was traded to the Vancouver Canucks, reports started surfacing how Treliving was in contact with the Edmonton Oilers about trading for a defenseman. The good news here is the fact Treliving isn’t sitting on his hands and has been testing the trade waters early on this season.
There’s no doubt a need for another defenseman on the Maple Leafs and they need to add a blueliner who brings a different element to the team. Treliving is reportedly looking for long, lanky and physical and would love to beef up the team’s blue line in a hurry.
Keep an eye on who’s available from some struggling teams and as I wrote about days ago, there’s a chance the Calgary Flames or Winnipeg Jets become sensible trade partners for the Maple Leafs. My colleague Alex Hobson also had a report yesterday from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, in which he anticipated the Leafs would pursue Flames defencemen Nikita Zadorov and/or Chris Tanev. It will be a money in/money out situation as the Leafs are up against the salary cap, but there’s no doubt Treliving will try and get creative to make a splash this season.
There we have it folks, the latest edition of the Countdown is in the books and it seemed like a good time to reflect on what we should be loving about this season’s Maple Leafs. Yes, they’ve looked scary good at times and scary bad at others, but was it going to be any other way? Three more home games this week and then off to Stockholm, Sweden for two. Keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times!
Recent articles from Shane Seney