The kids have gone back to school and the NFL started last weekend which means one thing for hockey fans…the NHL is almost back!
We are officially 22 days away from puck-drop on the 2017-18 NHL season and it’s time to look at what you should expect from the Maple Leafs’ top players.
If you are not familiar with me, I am the Editor-in-Chief of the fantasy hockey site DailyFaceoff.com, where I do yearly projections for all players expected to make NHL rosters this fall. My projections hit the web last Tuesday and today we’ll look at who (I think) the Maple Leafs’ top-10 scorers will be during the upcoming season.
1. Auston Matthews (C)
|2016-17 Season Stats||82||40||29||69|
Matthews tantalized Maple Leafs fans in his NHL debut by scoring four goals against the Ottawa Senators. The rookie finished the season tied for second in the NHL in goals (40) and tied for 20th in points (69) en route to winning the Calder Trophy.
Matthews is a big, strong kid with an elite release and a candidate not only to score 40 goals again, but someone who could lead the NHL in goals in 2017-18. A lot of players who have excellent rookie seasons are subject to a sophomore slump, but Matthews isn’t your average second-year player. Look for him to be near a point-per-game player and lead the Maple Leafs in that category.
2. Mitch Marner (RW)
|2016-17 Season Stats||77||19||42||61|
When Marner was selected No.4 overall in 2015, many prognosticators believed that he was too small for the NHL. After posting 242 points (83G / 159A) in his final two years in London (OHL), Marner turned pro last fall and proved all of his doubters wrong. Marner is incredibly quick and shifty, allowing him to maneuver around the ice without being crushed by his larger opponents.
Marner is a gifted playmaker, who recorded 42 assists in his rookie campaign and barring a sophomore slump, 50 assists should be attainable in his second season. He won’t challenge Matthews for the goal-scoring lead on the team, but they should finish the year within a few points of each other.
3. William Nylander (LW)
|2016-17 Season Stats||81||22||39||61|
After a brief stint with the Maple Leafs in 2015-16, Nylander took his 1.18 points per game from the AHL the year prior and translated it into 61 points (22G / 39A) in 81 games with the Maple Leafs last year.
Nylander skates extremely well and is a great passer, making him an obvious candidate for 40-plus assists in his second full season. The 21-year-old son of former NHLer Michael Nylander, also recorded 205 shots in 2016-17—making consistent goal production in the mid-20’s highly likely.
4. James van Riemsdyk (LW)
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In 2016-17, van Riemsdyk quietly posted a career-high in points (62) while the Maple Leafs’ “Big 3” of Matthews, Marner and Nylander garnered all of the attention. Outside of 2015-16, van Riemsdyk has been very durable, missing just two games in his four other seasons with Toronto. During that time, he has averaged 29 goals and 30 assists per 82 games—his 0.72 points per game is tied with the likes of Filip Forsberg, Leon Drasaitl and David Pastrnak for 58th in the NHL over that stretch.
It’s nearly impossible to expect anything less than a 30-30 season from JVR after five years of uber-consistent results.
5. Nazem Kadri (C)
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Kadri’s production during his time in Toronto can be classified as “mercurial.” However, during his two seasons under Mike Babcock, Kadri has looked like a different player, primarily in 2016-17 when he set a career-highs in goals (32) and points (61). The most impressive part of Kadri’s season was he did that while being leaned on to play against the other team’s top lines.
Kadri did more damage than he ever has on the power-play, but also shot a few percent higher than his career-average of 11.2%. However, even if that regresses, Kadri ranks tied for 15th in the NHL in shots over the last two seasons and as long as that continues he will be a 25-to-30 goal scorer in 2017-18.
6. Tyler Bozak (C)
|2016-17 Season Stats||78||18||37||55|
Like JVR, Bozak also had a career-year without many people noticing. The 31-year-old posted a career-best 37 assists and 55 points and will look to build off of that as his chemistry with young players like Marner continues to grow. As long as he is playing with a gifted playmaker like No.16, Bozak should be expected to post goal totals close to 20 with around 30-to-35 assists. However, he lacks the high-end upside.
7. Patrick Marleau (LW)
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After 19 marvellous seasons in San Jose, the Sharks let Marleau walk in free agency this summer and he inked a lucrative three-year deal in Toronto. Marleau has not missed a game in eight years and brings some veteran leadership and offensive ability to a young Leafs roster.
Marleau will turn 38-years-old on Saturday, so his best years are likely behind him, but the veteran winger has still ranked tied for 26th in the NHL in goals (104) over the last four years at the ages 34-to-37. He’s a steady producer and 25-25 is not out of the question, especially considering he will likely play with Matthews or Marner for 82 games.
8. Connor Brown (RW)
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Brown would probably get more attention if he didn’t play in Toronto; which sounds weird considering it’s the Hockey Capital of the world. But Brown’s name doesn’t carry the same weight of Matthews, Marner or Nylander, but don’t forget about the tenacious winger.
The 23-year-old posted ridiculous numbers in his final year in the OHL and was close to a point-per-game player in a year and a half with the Marlies. He’ll be expected to take a step forward alongside Kadri this season and could reach the 50-point plateau.
9. Zach Hyman (RW)
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Similar to Brown, Hyman recorded impressive numbers at lower-levels (NCAA & AHL) and is just starting to hit his stride in the NHL. With his hard-working attitude and talented surrounding cast, don’t be surprised if he gets close to 40 points this year.
10. Nikita Zaitsev (D)
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Shocker. Another first-year NHLer that had a great year in Toronto last year. After 317 games in the KHL, Zaitsev came over to North America and finished the year with 36 points (4G / 32A) while playing over 22 minutes per night. The Russian blueliner is lauded for his passing ability and he will likely be an integral part of the Maple Leafs’ power-play again in 2017-18.