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Which Leaf could captain the 2024 All-Star game hosted in Toronto?

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Photo credit:Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
Brennan Delaney
2 months ago
On Monday, the National Hockey League announced that the format would be changing for the NHL All-Star game. The game itself will keep the three-on-three format with four different teams. However, the way those four teams are created will be different.
Since the 2016 all-star game, the four divisions have faced off with the captain of a team in that division leading the way. However, at the 2024 all-star game on February 3, the NHL will be bringing back the fantasy draft that was around from 2011-2015. The best moment from this format is when then-Leaf Phil Kessel awkwardly sat alone as he was the last player to be picked.
But with the All-Star Game taking place at Scotiabank Centre, it stands to reason that a Toronto Maple Leaf will captain one of the teams. The question is, who is it going to be?

William Nylander’s case:

Despite picking up no points in his past three games, Nylander leads the Leafs in points with 27, and is second in goals with 12. He’s tied for 12th in the league, but only four points separate him from fifth place. The 27-year-old has never been an All-Star, but definitely deserved to be in 2022-23 as he had 40 goals and 87 points in 82 games.
Diving deeper into his advanced analytics, we can see that his 55.56% goal share on the ice is sixth best on the team and the fourth best for forwards with 10+ games played. Nylander sits behind Calle Jarnkrok, Tyler Bertuzzi, and John Tavares.
It helps that Nylander has a very outgoing personality and was nicknamed “Willy Styles” by Joe Thornton. In a The Sports Network article from 2021, Tavares had this to say about Nylander: “It’s different, but [his fashion choices] suit his personality… Will’s just a fun, outgoing guy and obviously likes to be a little bit different and showcase that, which is fantastic.”
The All-Star game is all about fun, and Nylander brings it off and on the ice. He’d be a perfect representation of what the new-aged game is all about. Also PSA, but please re-sign him.

Auston Matthews’ case:

There are only a few players in the league that can match Matthew’s pedigree for scoring. This season, the 26-year-old centre has 14 goals and 21 points in 21 games. While the point total is tied for 38th, Matthews is tied for fourth in goals. 
Since joining the league in 2016-17, Matthews’ 313 goals in 501 games is the most in the league. In fact, if you remove all power play goals, his 232 even strength goals would be tied for fifth in the league, with only Connor McDavid coming anywhere close.
Analytically, Matthews has 51.35% goal share at even strength, which is the lowest he’s had since the 2018-19 season when he had a 48.15% goal share. Despite this, his first line usually plays against the toughest opponents, so it isn’t too shocking to see the goal share being closer to 50%.
The selling point of Matthews being captain is the fact that he has played in the All-Star game four times, and has been voted in all six All-Star games that have happened during his career. Matthews has also captained an All-Star team twice, the first time in 2019 and most recently in 2022 when he had 60 goals.

Mitch Marner’s case:

Despite the Leafs finishing second in the Atlantic Division and fourth in the league, the 2023 All-Star game only saw them have one representative head to Sunrise, Florida. That representative was Mitch Marner, who went on to have a career-year in 2022-23, scoring 30 goals and 99 points in 80 games. Marner is a two-time All-Star, once in 2020 and most recently in 2023.
Marner is off to a slow start in 2023-24, only scoring five goals and 20 points in his first 20 games. As it stands, he has an even 50% goal share mainly playing with Auston Matthews and a revolving door of left-wingers.
The 26-year-old’s calling card is that he’s one of the most dynamic playmakers in the league, picking up the fifth most assists since joining the league with 401. He’s only one behind Nathan MacKinnon for fourth, and needs just 18 assists to surpass Leon Draisaitl for second place. I’ll let you take a guess who first place is; a hint is that he’s a future Leaf.

So who’ll get it:

A lot can happen in the month or so before rosters are announced for the game. If I had to guess, Nylander looks like an early candidate to captain one of the All-Star teams, but he’ll need to break out of his mini-slump.
Matthews would be the safe choice, as he’s Toronto’s best player and has already captained an All-Star team twice. Moreover, there’s a good chance he’ll be around the top of the league in goals by the time the All-Star teams are announced.
Marner is the dark horse to captain the All-Star team. He was Toronto’s best player last season and continues to be one of the most underrated players in the league. I wouldn’t put my money on him getting the nod, but stranger things have happened!
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