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John Tavares defying age with hot start for the Maple Leafs this season

Toronto Maple Leafs
Photo credit:Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
James Reeve
7 months ago
Despite turning 33 before the start of the season, Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares has been in stellar form for the team and is one of the top points producers in the league through the opening six games.
To start the 2023-24 season, Tavares is joint points leader for the Toronto Maple Leafs with 10 points, scoring three goals and providing seven assists, tied with William Nylander (five goals, five assists).
Tavares, in the sixth year of his seven-year, $11 million-a-year contract signed back in the summer of 2018, would be forgiven by many if his production began to regress as he entered the latter stages of his career, but this season it does not look like the Mississauga, Ontario native is ready to slow down just yet.
He is averaging 18:19 of ice time each game, the third-highest average since his move to Toronto and has been impressive across multiple areas of his game. He has a 62% success rate in the face-off circle and continues to demonstrate a physical side to his game only over the past couple of years, with eight hits and four blocked shots through six games.
It’s been a joy to see the captain outperform expectations this far into his contract, and the NHL’s new EDGE data tracking site paints an interesting picture of how Tavares has performed on the ice beyond his basic stats.
One of the common criticisms of Tavares’ game has always been his perceived lack of speed. The ‘slow player’ tag has hung around him throughout his time in Toronto, at the very least, but Edge’s stats paint quite a different picture of the Toronto Maple Leafs captain.
In fact, Tavares’ top speed sits impressively in the 89th percentile in the entire league. 22.25mph is his recorded top speed this year, which is above the league average of 21.36mph. Having almost a full mile-per-hour increase in speed suggests that the narrative around Tavares is wrong and that he simply uses his speed at select moments.
The data supports this, as he has demonstrated a burst of speed over 22mph once this season, with the league average being zero. He has topped out between 20 and 22mph on 11 occasions, more than the league average of seven, while the majority of his speed bursts (30) sit in the 18 to 20mph region, although this is surprisingly lower than the league average and puts him in the 59th percentile.
It shows a player who uses his speed carefully and in a considered manner, with bursts of increasing speeds dotted around various games. While most of his bursts sit in the lower bracket, the fact that he can top out over 22mph at least once shows that he is capable of reaching higher speeds but focuses on his overall game instead.
Like most offensive players, if Tavares is put into positions where he has more chances in front of the opposition net, it’s more likely that he will succeed, as heavily evident in his current usage this season.
Looking at the data, Tavares is currently spending 49% of the time in the offensive zone, which is significantly higher than the neutral zone (17.2%) and the defensive zone (33.8%), putting him in the 95th percentile of players in the league.
When looking at his zone starts, Tavares is heavily deployed in the offensive zone as well, starting there 63.9% of the time. When put in the right positions, Tavares is still an elite offensive threat and has proven so with his 10 points to start the year.
What is impressive, is how Tavares has been using his favourable deployment and time spent in the offensive zone. While some players spread their shots around the zone, Tavares has been focusing his efforts almost exclusively in high-danger areas, such as the slot and the crease.
He has 25 shots on the year, which is 98th percentile in the league (which averages 10 so far) and 15 of them have come in high-danger areas.
Even though he has not scored many goals, with three to date, this is still much higher than league average and it means that the Leafs captain is putting the puck in places that force goaltenders to make a save, or can result in rebounds that teammates can jump onto.
Putting that much pressure on opposition goaltenders is bound to reap further rewards for Tavares, who has been one of the brightest spots on the team to start the year.
 
Getting shots in such threatening areas has seen Tavares start the year with a 137-point pace, which would easily be the highest of his career by quite some margin. Of course, this will undoubtedly regress by mid-season, or even earlier, but the fact that Tavares is still capable of putting up performances of this quality, especially considering his age, is something that should please everyone associated with the team.
Stats sourced from NHL EDGE and Hockey Reference.

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