Five players who need to step up for the Toronto Maple Leafs in Auston Matthews’ absence

Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Steven Ellis
1 year ago
The Toronto Maple Leafs kicked off the weekend with some brutal news, with Auston Matthews set to miss the next three weeks (and the NHL all-star game) with a knee injury.
Luckily, the Leafs have a quiet schedule thanks to the all-star break, so they likely won’t be without Matthews for too many games. But with Ottawa and Washington in the short-term, those are points the Leafs aren’t going to want to give up, and we know how hard the Sens play Toronto every time they meet.
Toronto went 1-1 in a two-game stint without Matthews earlier in the month, so they already know how to react when Big Papi’s out of action. But without No. 34 for an extended stretch, here’s a look at five players who need to step it up for the Leafs for the time being:

John Tavares

The captain is leading the ship on the top line, starting Friday’s game alongside Michael Bunting and Mitch Marner. Tavares can be a hot-and-cold player, but he’s up to 13 points in his last 10 games. The top two lines can be interchangeable in terms of ice time, so it’s not like this will be a big boost for Tavares, but it’ll be interesting to see how he meshes with Marner again after finding some success earlier in the season. Tavares is on pace for 80 points, which would be the second-highest of his Maple Leafs’ tenure. Could he boost that number with his new linemates?

William Nylander

This is a given since he leads the team with 26 goals and is tied with Marner with 57 points. But with his main center moving up, Nylander will likely need to start creating more offense himself. It’s been a career year for the 26-year-old Swede, and he’s up to 10 points in his past five games, but he’ll need to keep that momentum flying over the next few weeks. It’s not a ton of games, and Nylander isn’t headed to the all-star game, thankfully, but when Nylander is on his game, he is REALLY on his game. And the Leafs need that fire to stay hot in the short term.

Pontus Holmberg

It was interesting to see Holmberg centering Toronto’s second line at practice on Friday, given how they weren’t afraid to bump up Alex Kerfoot in the past. Holmberg scored against the Rangers in a game that saw him skate in just 6:31, his second game back after a three-game stint with the Toronto Marlies. Holmberg started off strong with the Leafs this year and has 12 points in 30 games, his first season in the NHL. This will be the biggest opportunity of Holmberg’s short career, even if it just means a game or two with William Nylander and Calle Jarnkrok. His hard work ethic has proven successful in the bottom six, but this will be a new challenge – and he hasn’t shied away from anything.

Calle Jarnkrok

Jarnkrok has been an excellent addition to Toronto’s lineup and is set for the first 20-goal, 40-point of his NHL career. The stout secondary scorer has seven points in his past 10 games and scored in consecutive contests against the Canadiens and Islanders over the past week. Jarnkrok’s incredible hockey sense allows him to be a value playmaker, but he can also be quite dangerous around the crease. If Holmberg ends up being the short-term option beside Jarnkrok at center, giving the line an all-Swedish flair, Jarnkrok will need to ramp up his offensive play to make up for Tavares’ promotion. Jarnkrok is very capable of that.

Alex Kerfoot

Kerfoot’s name has been a hot topic ever since the Leafs brought him over from Colorado. When he’s good, you notice him. When he’s terrible, you REALLY notice him. He was a No. 2 center in Colorado years ago but never fit that role in Toronto, even in short stints. He had a career-high 51 points last year, but after some flashes of skill early on, he’s on pace for just 37 this year. He’s typically the guy that gets elevated when someone is injured in the top six, and has even played on the top line when everyone is healthy. Now, he’ll need to show he’s good enough to stick with the club past the deadline, and it’s not like he needs the extra motivation in a contract year.

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