Photo credit:Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Aston-Reese’s uptick in goal-scoring could help the Maple Leafs during the playoffs
By Nick Barden10 months ago
Zach Aston-Reese joined the Maple Leafs on a PTO at the beginning of the season and it might be one of the best low-key moves Toronto has made this year.
At this time last season, the 28-year-old was scoring his third, fourth, and fifth goals of the year with the Anaheim Ducks. It was his lowest goal total in an NHL season, aside from his four goals in 16 games back in 2017-18.
One year later though, Aston-Reese is helping prop up a Maple Leafs fourth line that could sneakily do some damage in the first round of the playoffs against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Tuesday night was a very important game for the 28-year-old because he set a new career-high in goals with 10 on the season. A huge moment for the team that took a chance on him this past summer, but more importantly, it was a night filled with significance for Aston-Reese.
“It’s pretty special,” the 28-year-old told TSN’s Mark Masters on Tuesday after setting the new career-high. “I always believed in myself and it’s nice to be in a place that believes in me.”
Calling this an up and down season for Aston-Reese would be very fitting. It’s not always easy being a fourth liner in the NHL, especially when there are a number of players in the AHL pushing for that very same opportunity he got at the beginning of the season.
And when you’re not producing up to your standards, it can begin to creep into your head a little bit.
“Something was a little bit off,” Aston-Reese said to Masters when asked about his reflection of the first half of the season. “It was maybe more of a mindset where I was feeling sorry for myself all of the time instead of going out there and just working through it.
“The biggest thing in my mindset that’s changed is every shift I’m trying to have full foot on the pedal, just trying to give every effort and come back to the bench exhausted.”
The 28-year-old also admitted to Masters on Tuesday that with the trade deadline now being over, it also might have helped play a role in his rise in production throughout the last month.
“It’s always in the back of your mind,” Aston-Reese said of the possibility of being traded, “especially when you’re not producing offensively.”
Every team, if they’d like the chance at going deep into the playoffs, needs a player like this on their team. Think of Lars Eller for the Washington Capitals or Nick Paul with the Tampa Bay Lightning last season.
Those players might be better when it comes to point production, but the 28-year-old could provide some important goal scoring. Aston-Reese — if he continues to stay hot — could very well be that player for the Maple Leafs.
It’s important that he’s scoring goals at the moment, yes, but it’s also very fascinating to see how he’s scoring them too.
Aston-Reese’s first goal on Tuesday was in-part due to a great pass by Justin Holl right below the goal line. Though it was also because the 28-year-old put himself in a great position to accept the puck, and then fire it off just as it touches his stick.
This is the type of goal you need from a player like this in the playoffs.
It’s very telling, too, that his highest shot total in one game (five shots for) was on March 29th against Florida. I say that only because usually when a player is shooting a lot, their confidence is high.
Like Aston-Reese said, with him beginning to feel himself again, and with the trade deadline being over, it’s given him a bit of breathing room, which is clearly paying off.
The 28-year-old’s second goal of the game is an even better example of the type of goals you need from a player with this role in the lineup.
This is the definition of a dirty goal.
These are the types of goals that are scored in the playoffs, especially during tight games. As chances get thinner, and teams get to know each other more, they begin to pick up on tendencies. But that is when goals such as these are direly important.
If you’re a team, like the Maple Leafs, who needs (and now has) someone who’s able to score those types of goals in the playoffs, you’re in very good hands.
This is not to say that Aston-Reese is going to be the next Eller, or Paul for that matter, but he very well could be an important player for this Toronto team in the postseason.
And if the 28-year-old continues to stay hot, it’s very possible that he could score some big goals for the Maple Leafs in the weeks, and even months to come.
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