With a wealth of young talent, the Toronto Maple Leafs finally have depth throughout their roster and a team that’s more than capable of making a return to the playoffs. And with that newfound depth comes a new, young core.
Led by Auston Matthews, Toronto has plenty of young guns on their roster, including Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Connor Brown. However, the Leafs also have a promising up-and-comer in Zach Hyman, who has a lot of potential in his still relatively young career.
As the Maple Leafs’ look to enter the 2017-18 season strong, there’s a good chance Hyman will see himself off of Auston Matthews’ wing and start on the third or even fourth line. However, as time goes on, he could see himself vying for a role on the top six. Again, not right away, but sooner rather than later.
The 25-year-old is entering just his second full season in the NHL and had just 10 goals and 28 points through 82 games this past year. However, Hyman made himself a force when he was on the ice, playing a solid, physical game at both ends of the rink and recording 109 hits. In addition, he had 45 takeaways for just 25 giveaways and proved his worth as a solid defensive forward.
His most noteworthy performance came in the Leafs’ short-lived 2017 postseason, where he racked up a goal and four points in six playoff games against the Capitals. He was one of the Leafs’ top performers in that series, given his solid play at both ends of the rink and his production against the Presidents’ Trophy winners.
When it comes down to it, envisioning Hyman on the top six is not impossible, though it is not a transition that will happen overnight. In fact, looking at his entire career, it may take him time to fully adapt to the next level up, but when he does, he becomes an unstoppable force.
For instance, he didn’t truly start producing in the NCAA until his senior year, where he had 22 goals and 54 points in 37 games to become one of the top players in the Big Ten, as well as one of the top up-and-coming NHL prospects. So, while it does take him time to fully adjust and development, he makes the wait worth it.
His greatest asset, though, is his overall versatility; while listed as a centre, Hyman can also play on either side of the wing, and this gives him more of an advantage when it comes to the lineup since he can slot in at any position.
In addition, Hyman takes a lot of shots and isn’t afraid to rip the puck, and he plays a solid 200-foot game. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound forward is also a solid skater who can throw his weight around, win battles along the boards and overall, take good care of the puck.
However, there are some obstacles that he has to overcome if he wants to become a top-six winger this season. First off, he has to be more consistent on a game-to-game basis; though his numbers weren’t bad for a bottom-six winger, Hyman would go on lengthy cold streaks, occasionally broken up by point streaks and strong outings.
If he wants to make himself a necessity, especially as a top-six forward, he will have to prove that he can regularly put up numbers and produce at any given time. Right now, he is good enough of a defensive forward to be considered a solid depth player, but if he wants to become more than that, he needs to add more offence and skill to his game.
Not only that, he has a lot of competition and may need to add more edge to his game, as well as overall production, to earn a spot on the top two lines.
The second line currently consists of James Van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Mitch Marner, all of whom had at least 50 points this past season. And unfortunately for Hyman, he does not cut close to those numbers, at least not yet. The only circumstances that bring him aboard the top six is if: 1) Patrick Marleau ends up not having good chemistry on the top six, and doesn’t have a lot left to offer (which is very, very, very unlikely) or 2) He starts off the year with outstanding numbers and outshines Van Riemsdyk or Bozak to beat them out for a second line spot (also not likely).
The only circumstances that bring him aboard the top six this season is if: 1) Patrick Marleau ends up not having good chemistry on the top six, and doesn’t have a lot left to offer (which is very, very, very unlikely) or 2) He starts off the year with outstanding numbers and outshines Van Riemsdyk or Bozak to beat them out for a second line spot (also not likely).
In the end, while it’s not impossible for Hyman to become a top-six forward at some point, the current roster situation, as well as Hyman’s overall consistency and the need for further development, keeps him on the bottom-six for now.