As the Leafs have reached their half point in the season, I am excited to say that I am impressed as a Leaf fan. They currently sit in third place in the Atlantic divison with a (20-13-8) Record. I’m sure lots of fans expected them to be better this year as the Toronto rookies have taken over the lineup. At the start of the season I was not sure what to expect. I was thinking of Toronto finishing somewhere between 20th-22nd range in the league but their play since the beginning of November has taken me by surprise and has given me hope for this team to finish in a playoff position.
Yeah, the loss to the Jets was bad, so was the loss to Chicago (I was there). But think of all of the great moments so far after the first half. Everyone knows what that Matthews kid did in his first game. The home opener with the retiring of the numbers was spectacular followed by a 6-2 victory over the Bruins. The Centennial Classic when Matthews came to the rescue in overtime. I actually get excited when I watch the Leafs play this season and think to myself “Its actually here, they’re actually a good hockey team.” Now I’m not saying they are a cup contender by any means, but they are looking more and more promising to develop as one each day.
With that I have decided to rank each Leafs skater by letter grade and will share my thoughts on that players performance this season. (Minimum of 8 Games Played)
Freddy Andersen : A
After an abysmal start to his Leafs career, Andersen has really settled down and given the Leafs a shot in each game he has been in.
Ben Smith : C+
After being claimed off waivers from Colorado Smith replaced Peter Holland as the 4th line center and is clearly a guy Mike Babcock likes. Smith has been good on the penalty kill and has won 53.2% of his draws. His 5 on 5 numbers are not excellent especially in his own zone.
Frederik Gauthier : B
Freddy the Goat has been used in Ben Smith’s role after he was injured and has stepped in and filled the role better than ever. The faceoffs have been average and his defense has been excellent. He has looked good alongside Matt Martin and Nikita Soshnikov on the 4th line.
Nikita Soshnikov : B-
Sosh has only been averaging ten minutes per night on the fourth line. He has looked average on the penalty kill and power play with the limited time he has been getting. Babcock does seem to be a big fan of him and his feisty play. Very underrated offensive weapon if you ask me though with his wicked shot.
Roman Polak : D
I mean yeah you can’t expect much from this guy. But boy oh boy has Roman Polak looked bad. This may also just be me being salty over the Carl Gunnarsson trade (I loved Gunnarsson) but I was extremely upset when they brought him back this offseason. He does not ever look good in his own zone which is something the Leafs need out of a guy like Polak. I have seen Polak fail to clear rebounds in front of the net way too many times to even count. The guy is a warrior and a good physical presence however and I will credit him back.
Matt Martin : B
I’m not going to lie I really don’t like his contract. But Toronto is getting what they expected out of Martin who sits among the league leaders in PIM’s. Martin has befriended Mitch Marner and Connor Carrick who went vacationing together during the bye week. I believe bringing on Martin has been David Clarksons much cheaper replacement. A good locker room guy who will stick up for his teammates and just a fun guy for the rookies to be around.
Martin Marincin : B-
Marincin has been battling a few injuries as of late, but before that I think he looked much better than he did last year. Marincin had lots of hype from the advanced stats community even before he came over from Edmonton. He will lob the occasional grenade in front of the Toronto net much like Jake Gardiner used to have problems with. He stays out of the box and usually makes good choices with the puck.
Connor Carrick : B+
I absolutely love this guy. Carrick was hyped up last year for his offensive ability especially after his hattrick against Bridgeport in the first round of the AHL playoffs. He has looked excellent alongside Jake Gardiner this year and has been the best Leaf defender in his own zone this season. He is not afraid to get in a guys face and makes smart decisions with the puck. I would like to see the offense spark up a bit but for now Carrick has easily been the fourth best Toronto defender.
Matt Hunwick : C
This guy is absolutely hated by the advanced stats community but I think he has actually looked much better than he did last season. Alongside Roman Polak it really does make him look worse than he actually is. Hunwick is not the best in the defensive zone as he often times has trouble clearing out rebounds in front. His offensive numbers are up this year while he is also seeing less ice time than last year. Unfortunately the Leafs would like to look to Hunwick to be a shutdown guy rather than a guy generating offense at the back end.
Leo Komarov : B
You’re getting what you expect out of Uncle Leo. Bang in goals and grit are Leos trademark. He can kill penalties and play on the power play. Great locker room guy. He has played an important role in shutting down the opponents top lines with Nazem Kadri.
Nikita Zaitsev : B+
Zaitsev has been the third best of the Toronto D-Corps this season. He has brought another offensive weapon on the back end alongside Morgan Rielly. The two dont always look the greatest defensively, but you have to remember they are usually assigned with the Oppositions top lines.
Morgan Rielly : B
Morgan Rielly is my favorite player on the Leafs. I have been very upset with his performance on the defensive side of the puck so far this year. He is young and is going to make mistakes but it is not long before he is one of the veterans on this team and may even be captain. The offense is still there, I would like to see the goal totals go up. But I have faith in Rielly as being the Leafs number one d-man for years to come.
Zach Hyman : A
I think I along with many other fans were so excited to hear that this guy made the team out of camp. He has been excellent alongside Autson Matthews and either William Nylander or Connor Brown. Hyman has the unbelievable drive to have the puck on his stick. He is Happy Gilmore when his puck is taken away and drives the opponent insane until he gets it back in Torontos possession. He has been the Leafs top penalty killer this year and is a great net presence. (We only got him for Gregg McKegg)
Connor Brown : A-
Brown has been an excellent wingman for Matthews. He struggled a bit towards the beginning of the year on the fourth line with Martin and Holland but has picked it up since moving up. Brown is also a player who absolutely loves having the puck in his teams possession and feeds off of energy from Hyman and Matthews.
Jake Gardiner : A
Wow. Jake Gardiner has been the Leafs top guy all year. He has cleaned things up in his own zone and has taken his offensive ability to the next level. He has been incredible on the power play and who could forget about his OT winner against Pittsburgh?
Tyler Bozak : B+
Bozak has always been good with JVR and has looked even better when Marner was added to that mix. His faceoffs have been excellent this year at 56.2%.
Nazem Kadri : A
Kadri is on pace to set a career high in goals. He has been excellent on the powerplay with William Nylander especially and has done an excellent job of shutting down the top players in the NHL. Easily the most hated man in Edmonton as well.
William Nylander : B
Nylander does not quite have his 5 on 5 game where it needs to be at the NHL level. He has been an absolute juggernaut on the power play however.
Mitch Marner : A+
Marner is magic. If he beats you to the puck you are not going to get it back. You also are probably never going to beat him to the puck. How many times per game do you go “Wow, he should’ve had an assist on that play!” Or “Wow, that assist was so nice they should just give him a goal!” Marner has blown away my expectations with his unbelievable talent to generate offense.
James VanRiemsdyk : A-
JVR continues to be an excellent net presence and is on pace to have another 30 goal season. Would be nice to see him tighten up in the defensive zone though.
Auston Matthews : A+
You cannot say enough about this kid. Great at both ends of the ice. Excellent goal scoring ability. Great skating. A smart all around hockey player. We all knew he would be good, but this good? No way. Matthews is the hero Leaf fans need.