Top 3 Leafs players facing the most pressure to perform this spring

Photo credit:Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Alberga
8 days ago
There’s no way you can talk Maple Leafs and the Stanley Cup Playoffs without bringing up the word pressure.
It’s been 22 years since a Conference Final appearance and 56 long years since you know what happened.
But who’s counting.
We’re all aware of the data, we’re all aware of the numbers. Unfortunately, though, we’re all reminded about it on a consistent basis. Sadly, that will remain the case until this team can finally push through and get the job done.
With that in mind, let’s examine a top-3 list of Leafs players undoubtedly facing the most pressure to perform this spring.

Mitch Marner

Year after year, the local product has been the poster boy for failure in this market. Don’t get it twisted, though. Marner’s personal accomplishments are downright impressive. At 26, he’s already established himself on a short list of franchise greats. In 50 career postseason outings, the winger’s notched 10 goals and 47 points. On the surface, the numbers seem credible and look pretty good. That said, it’s his all-round game that has lacked substantial punch in the most important outings of his career. On top of all that, the Markham native’s eligible for a contract extension on July 1. Marner’s playing for his next deal, and possibly his future as a Maple Leaf, too.

Ilya Samsonov

Suffice it is to say, it’s been a rollercoaster 2023-24 campaign for the Russian netminder. On January 1st, Samsonov was placed on waivers, which gave the rest of the league the opportunity to claim him for free. No one elected to do so, and the rest is history. Following his January 10th recall, the pending unrestricted free agent compiled an 18-5-2 record to go along with a 2.70 goals-against average, .904 save percentage, and two shutouts. Even though there’s some level of insurance behind him, Samsonov will need to continue to perform at a high-level if the Leafs have any chance of going on a lengthy run. Additionally, the 27-year-old’s playing for his next contract —whether it’s with Toronto, or someone else. He’s the goalie and you don’t win without him. The Leafs stood by him, and now, there’s pressure to perform and reward them.

Auston Matthews

After putting together one of the best individual regular seasons in franchise history, the now three-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner will continue his pursuit of the one piece of hardware that would cement his legacy as a Maple Leaf. In 50 career playoff games, Matthews has tallied 22 goals and 44 points. Essentially, he’s out to prove that his 69 goal place is not a regular season only thing. He’s the best player on the team, and any way you slice it, that needs to translate to the Stanley Cup Playoffs as well. The 26-year-old is already trending towards G.L.O.A.T status, but rest assured, bringing the Stanley Cup back to Toronto would certainly put an end to any doubts in that debate.

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