The Toronto Maple Leafs capped off their season with a (40-27-15) record clinching a playoff spot in a full season for the first time since 2004. They were led by a historic rookie crop of 40 goal scorer Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Nikita Zaitsev, Connor Brown, Connor Carrick and Zach Hyman. It seemed like a record was being set every night. Even starting from day one when Matthews potted four goals in his first NHL game. Toronto struggled to hold on to leads throughout the season as they finished second in the NHL in time with the lead only winning 40 games. They managed to fix that issue at the end of their season finishing with a 12-2-1 record in their last 15 games.
It was a season of exceeding expectations in Toronto. Going from two consecutive bottom five finishes to a playoff spot is very rare especially with a team as young as the Leafs. Here are my individual player grades as the Leafs gear up for their playoff run.
Alexei Marchenko : B-
He was very serviceable for being a waiver claim. Marchenko filled in very nicely when Carrick was out for awhile. He would throw the occasional grenade on defense but picked up two points in 11 games on the Toronto blue line on the bottom pair most nights.
Martin Marincin : C
Marincin is an analytical dream. He has great possession and corsi numbers and should be a top 4 defenseman by those numbers. From what I have seen he is very soft in front of the net for how big he is. Gives up an awful turnover once in awhile and doesn’t offer a whole lot offensively. He did have seven points in 25 games this year which isn’t bad. Still I was very disappointed with Marincin in his own end.
Connor Carrick : B
Carrick was an offensive beast in the AHL. He only put up eight points in 67 games this season in his rookie year. I do believe Carrick has more to offer offensively at the NHL level as he develops. He still is only 22 years old with plenty of room to grow. What shocked me about Carrick was his defensive play. He is very steady and a tough customer. Teaching the defensive side of the game is much more difficult than learning the offense. Which I believe will come with time for Carrick.
Roman Polak : B
I am not a Roman Polak fan based on his play on the ice. He is very slow and doesn’t provide a whole lot more than a physical presence. But at the end of this season I saw a version of Roman Polak that I saw when he was with the Sharks in their cup run last season. He was very steady alongside Matt Hunwick on the bottom pair. He also was a good penalty killer on the top penalty kill in the league. I was very happy with his play in the second half of the season.
Matt Hunwick : B
Almost the same case as Polak. Not a Hunwick fan but he was good on the Toronto penalty kill and had a decent year offensively. 18 assists and a goal in 72 games is far more than I expected to ever get from Hunwick.
Morgan Rielly : C+
Morgan Rielly is my favorite player on the Toronto Maple Leafs. He is charming and their number one defenseman. I know he was thrown into some tough situations against top matchups this season. I would have liked to seen more stability in his own end this year. He and Zaitsev looked shaky at times which is expected. They are very young and offensive minded. I am not worried about the offensive numbers as he was still generating offense without any power play time. I would like to see Rielly develop into an excellent two-way defender like Mike Babcock wants him to be.
Nikita Zaitsev : B
Zaitsev had a great rookie campaign as Morgan Rielly’s defense partner. He put up 36 points in 82 games as a rookie and looked solid in his own end for the most part. I would love to see Zaitsev come back this offseason as Toronto’s #2 defenseman.
Jake Gardiner : B
The offense was great don’t get me wrong. But Jake Gardiner cannot stop making boneheaded plays. Lots of turnovers in his own end or just silly gaffs. Gardiner has elite level advanced stats which should make him one of the best defenseman in the NHL. 43 points in 82 games is fantastic for a defenseman but his defensive game is far too weak for him to become anything more than a #2 or #3 defenseman.
Kasperi Kapanen : C
I thought Kapanen could have brought alot more to the Leafs at the end of the season. He definitely did not have the confidence as he could not handle the puck to save his life. He did come up with a huge game tying goal against the team who traded him to lead the Leafs to clinching their playoff spot.
Frederik Gauthier : B-
Freddy the Goat did a good job replacing Ben Smith on the fourth line when he went down with an injury. In limited ice time he looked steady and won 51.1% of his faceoffs.
Brian Boyle : C
I wasn’t impressed with Brian Boyle as the fourth line center. I was hoping he would bring up the play of Matt Martin and Soshnikov/Leivo/Kapanen. He really just kind of looked invisible. He won 49.8% of his draws which isn’t fantastic. The Leafs gave up a second round pick for him which just seems like a bit of a waste to me.
Ben Smith : D
He was brought in to win faceoffs and didn’t do that very well. Lousy in his own end and doesn’t bring anything offensively.
Matt Martin : D+
Didn’t engage at the right time for the most part. Took too many penalties and doesn’t provide much else than a physical presence.
Nikita Soshnikov : C
He looked very good at times but was probably buried on the fourth line with players that were way below his caliber. He has a great shot and put the puck in the net in the AHL. He did an alright job killing penalties.
Josh Leivo : A
Why did this guy only play 13 games? He was unbelieveable when he was in the lineup. 10 points in 13 games on the Kadri line. He has a great shot and I would love to see more Josh Leivo in the Leafs future.
Zach Hyman : B
Alot of people hate on Hyman for dragging Matthews and Nylander down. Which may be true but man is Hyman a pest. He is excellent at taking the puck away from his opponents and is great on the penalty kill. His offense is not at an NHL level but his defensive game makes up for it. I do not think he should be playing 5 on 5 with Matthews and Nylander however.
Leo Komarov : B
Leo did his job for the most parts. Be annoying and bang in some goals. Some games he just looked invisible though. He did do a good job as a shutdown guy with Nazem Kadri and Connor Brown however.
Connor Brown : B+
Brown had a very quiet 20 goal season as a Leaf rookie as his fellow rookies outscored him by a wide margin. He was great alongside Kadri and Komarov as a shutdown guy who killed penalties and had a solid offensive side too. He played in all 82 games for the Leafs and was fourth on the team in rookie scoring with 36 points.
Tyler Bozak : B
Bozak finally got to the 50 point mark for the first time in his career which he had been criticized for not getting there before. Still not great in his own end but was excellent in the faceoff circle winning 56.4% of them which was fourth in the NHL. He looked good alongside JVR and Marner in a career season for him.
James van Riemsdyk : B+
Despite all of the trade rumors JVR had a very solid season playing in all 82 games scoring 29 goals and 62 points. He was great alongside Marner and Bozak. Had a few games where he was invisible but still set a career high in points.
Mitch Marner : A
Marner was close to not making the team out of camp after not registering a point in the regular season. He was the best player on his line with JVR and Bozak. He drove play of that line setting up his guys on a consistant basis, leading the team with 42 assists which is a Leafs rookie record. His speed and playmaking skills will continue to make him a star in this league.
William Nylander : A
Another player who was thrown into trade talks early on in the year. Nylander set the rookie record for pointstreaks at 12 games. He also set the rookie record with 26 powerplay points. He was excellent alongside Matthews and Hyman being an excellent setup man for Matthews as he had 39 assists.
Nazem Kadri : A
Well I guess we found out what Nazem Kadri’s future is with the Leafs. An excellent shutdown center. McDavid, Crosby, Backstrom, or any other teams top center Naz is out there doing his best to keep them off the scoreboard. He set a career high in goals with 32 and in points with 61. The contract he earned this offseason is looking to be one of the best in the NHL
Auston Matthews : A+
40 goals as a 19 year old? The first overall pick from the 2016 draft over exceeded expectations. We knew he would be good. But setting a Leaf rookie record in goals and points? I dont think anybody saw that coming. The crazy thing is he is only going to get better.
Curtis McEhlinney : B
He did a solid job replacing Jhonas Enroth after being put on waivers by Columbus. He posted a .915% save percentage in 13 games and 9 starts holding the fort when Andersen needed a day off.
Frederik Andersen : A
Lots of fans were skeptical when the Leafs traded for Andersen and signed him to a 5 million dollar over 5 year deal. But the Danish goalie impressed posting a .918% save percentage in 66 games. He gave the Leafs a chance to win just about every night and recovered from his rocky start to help push the Leafs into the playoffs.