7

Highs and Lows: The Top Six Wingers

Now that the offseason can officially be pronounced dead (barring an Erik Karlsson trade or a William Nylander extension), we can start looking at the roster, and what we can expect from the roster in the 2018-19 season. This might be a hot take to some, but the Leafs made some big improvements this offseason, particularly with the addition of John Tavares, so we can certainly expect this team to make strides this season, but it might not go as expected.

Taking from our buddies at Oilers Nation, over the next little while, I’m going to be looking at the Leafs roster, and seeing what the best and worst case scenarios are for all of the Leafs. Of course, this will be assuming that these players don’t get injured at all this season, and that they won’t get traded, but I’m going to try and make realistic ceilings and floors for what we can expect from the Leafs this season.

Today, we’ll be looking at the Leafs top six wingers. For this, I’ll be using what Babcock has stated will be the lines for the time being to reference as the Leafs top six wingers.

Apr 23, 2018; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug (47) defends against Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner (16) during game six of the first round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Boston.Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Mitch Marner

Ceiling: Marner topped his already amazing rookie season with a 69 point season in 2017-18, including a dominant stretch in the second half of the season that saw him put up 49 points in his final 48 games after a rough start to the season. He was also excellent in the playoffs, putting up nine points in the seven game series against Boston.

Of course, the big difference going into next season is that he’s no longer going to be the best player on his line, as he’ll have the privilege of playing with John Tavares. As great as James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Patrick Marleau, and Nazem Kadri are, they are all no John Tavares. Both players have the ability to drive a line, so they have a chance to do spectacular things together.

After a great sophomore season, and a significant increase in quality of teammates, I could see Marner’s ceiling this season look somewhere around a point per game, with about 25 of those 80ish points being goals. I think the odds of Marner being a point per game player on his own are slim, but considering that Tavares has turned guys like Kyle Okposo, Matt Moulson, Josh Bailey, and Anders Lee into point producers, he could probably give Marner a bump on top of his already high totals.

Floor: One thing that Marner had going for him last season was his power play production. 27 of his 69 points came on the power play, and while that might not seem like much, keep in mind that his even strength production consists of 40 and 42 points in his first two seasons.

Not saying that producing on the power play is a bad thing, but noting that he had a decent amount of his points on the power play, and two of the four players he regularly played with on that unit will be gone next season, that could cause a bit of change in that department.

Of course, one of those two players will be replaced with John Tavares, so that’s not a huge loss, but it could take a bit to adjust, especially without van Riemsdyk’s net front presence. While Marner’s production at 5v5 will probably be in the 40-50 point range, his power play production could take a hit, and see his point total remain in the 60 point range like the last two seasons.

Apr 23, 2018; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander (29) battles for position with Boston Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron (37) during game six of the first round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Boston.Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

William Nylander

Ceiling: Much like Marner, Nylander still has a lot to prove in this league, probably a bit more than Marner, considering that everyone wants to trade him. Nylander’s been very consistent through his first two full seasons, with 61 points both years.

Now that the chemistry with him and Matthews has really formed, it certainly isn’t out of the question for Nylander’s production to go up, especially since he’ll be playing with Marleau instead of Hyman, who has a bit more of a finishing ability. Also, the addition of Tavares will make line matching easier for the Matthews line, and that will help their production even more.

This also isn’t keeping in mind that the Matthews power play unit was snakebitten this season, as Nylander’s power play points dropped from 26 in 16-17 to 12 in 17-18. A bounce back season from that unit should help Nylander’s production even more, on top of the increase in even strength production (he jumped from 35 to 49 this season).

With all this in mind, it would be possible that we see Nylander hit a point per game this season. I’d say that’s the most that I could see him hit next season, all things considered.

Floor: Nylander’s floor is probably a lot easier to guess, because I’d say it’s probably similar to what he’s already put up these past two seasons. I’d imagine there wouldn’t be any situation of him falling back, so he shouldn’t get worse.

So, for his floor, I’ll be super specific and say 61 points again, although if he does hit that again this season, that means that’s not his floor, and is just his norm.

Oct 18, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Patrick Marleau (12) leads his team mates in a salute to their fans after a win over Detroit Red Wings at Air Canada Centre. The game was Marleau’s 1,500 career NHL game. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Patrick Marleau

Ceiling: Marleau is a much different scenario than Marner and Nylander, obviously. Marleau is on the last legs of his career, so his ceiling would be less of “he has potential to hit this” and more “he might repeat last season”.

And that’s certainly the case this season. He’s been very consistent these last few seasons, with 48, 46, and 47 points, as well as 25, 27, and 27 goals.

So, at his age, that’s probably his ceiling next season. 25 goals and 45 points is probably the best we’ll get from Marleau, whether it being because age hasn’t caught up to him yet, or it’s starting to, but playing with Matthews and Nylander helps hide that for the time being.

Floor: Well, if we’re being very realistic, Marleau’s floor could very much be similar to the drop off we saw from Leo Komarov last season. Not saying that Marleau will put up as few points as Uncle Leo, but age could start to catch up to him and suddenly, he’s a lot slower and a lot more of a liability.

I’d say worst case scenario points wise for Marleau would be 25 points, but that would be in a situation where he’s bad enough that Babcock takes him off the top line and plays him in a depth role on the third or fourth line.

But, to be more realistic, I’d set Marleau’s floor next season at 30 points, and maybe 20 goals. He doesn’t really add to the Matthews line, but he puts the puck in the net when given the chance.

Feb 18, 2018; Detroit, MI, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs center Zach Hyman (11) takes the puck up ice as Detroit Red Wings defenseman Trevor Daley (83) defends during the first period at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Zach Hyman

Ceiling: Rounding out the top six wingers, we have Zach Hyman, who Babcock finally granted our wishes of removing him from the Matthews line (for now), and dropping him to the Tavares line (cue the world’s smallest violin).

At the very least, Hyman managed to prove us wrong and show that he could be more productive, with 15 goals and 40 points this season (although he probably could’ve scored 50 goals with all the chances he got this season).

But, the one thing to keep in mind is that Hyman is a lot older than a rest of the Leafs younger core, at the age of 26. Not to say he’s like Marleau, but this probably means he’s reached the point where he isn’t going to drastically improve anymore.

So, his ceiling is probably similar to his production to last season, I’d say in the 30 point range, 40 points at most. Sure, he’ll be playing with Tavares and Marner, but it’s not like that’s a drastic upgrade from Matthews and Nylander.

Floor: As for his floor, Hyman is probably looking at what he had in his first season, more within the 25-30 point range, although less shorthanded goals. While it’s a bit closer to his ceiling than most players that I’ve covered in this series so far, I guess that kind of means that we already know what Hyman is, and what he’s done so far is just that.

One case I’d make against him producing like 2016-17 is that a good chunk of that season Nylander wasn’t on the top line, instead it was Connor Brown. Not that Brown is an anchor by any means, but Hyman will, at the very least, be playing with two elite players for most of the season.

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  • Matmarwill

    Yes, barring injury it’s reasonable to expect mitch and willie to be point-a-game players. Hyman might do better on the right wing points-wise, though that would put him on the third line.

    I dont know what babcock said, but marleau should stick with Kadri. With kappy on the right wing, that will be a defensively sound line that can score. I would put johnsson on matthews left wing and see how it goes.

  • mst

    Pts/60 regular season plus playoffs all situations Marner 3.20, Matthew’s 3.13 Nylander 2.64. Why are Nylander and Marner’s highs estimated as the same? Marner is a full year younger and therefore has more growth potential and Marner was always the best player on his line where Nylander was not!

    In the 42 games since being moved to Kadri’s wing Marner was on a 92 pts pace. Next year he gets to play with Tavares. An elite center who makes everyone he plays with better. Plus playing with Tavares will give Marner even more ice time.

    Marner’s high should be 100 pts.

    Meanwhile there is absolutely no evidence to suggest Nylander will be any better than a 60 pts pace. He didn’t improve last year, he’s not going to see much more in the way of ice time and his center iceman isn’t changing. He’s also a year older so has less room to grow.

    I just don’t understand the incessant, irrational Nylander loving on this site! Equating Nylander and Marner is an insult to Marner in the extreme!

  • mst

    Of the big three MNM last year Marner had the highest pts/60 all situations reg+playoffs. Marner had the best Corsi and the best Fenwick. Marner had the fewest giveaways and most Takeaways. And Marner did this while being the best player on his line.

    Yes Marner struggled out of the gate. But from the time he was put on the second line, for the last 42 games he was an elite winger surpassed only by Kucherov and Hall in the entire league. And he is only 21!

    Why does this site never give Marner the respect he deserves?

    • Bob Canuck

      My opinion is that the contributions of Nylander and Marner are alike. I also think their upside is very similar.

      In my view, the 2017-2018 all situations data for Marner and Nylander is distorted by the power play. The Marner unit definitely was better at creating scoring chances and high danger scoring chances than the Nylander unit. However, the Marner unit’s shooting percentage was 17.1% and the Nylander PP unit’s was 12.5%. I think these differences were due partly to luck (re shooting percentage), partly to personnel (Connor Brown was often on the Nylander unit), and design. Ian Tulloch outlined the design issues in his February 22, 2018 piece for The Athletic.

      Also, per Corsica, Marner’s all situation P/60 for the most recent season and playoff was 3.12 and not 3.20.

      If you look at 2017-2018 5v5 time, which accounts for approximately 81% of Marner’s time on ice, his P/60 is 2.08; Nylander’s is 2.32. Over the past two seasons, Marner’s P/60 is 2.07; Nylander’s is 2.03. In terms of primary points per 60 from 2016-2018, Marner’s is 1.55; Nylander’s is 1.45. When point production is considered, these players are very close.

      There are other websites (Skatr, Ryan Simson’s passing data, and Christopher Turtoro’s player comparisons) that demonstrate that the metrics for Marner and Nylander are very similar.

      I also think that Nylander’s poor performance against Boston has unduly coloured some people’s opinion of him. Let’s not forget that Nylander was superior to Marner in the Toronto-Washington playoff last year.

      There is one thing that I think there is agreement. A Marner-Nylander debate is more interesting than a Tyler Biggs-Brad Ross discussion. Cheers for the Shanaplan!

  • Capt.Jay

    Im not sure Hyman stays away from Matthews for long. Babcock likes his puck retrieval for Matthews. I also think Marner is a better option than Nylander on Matthews wing because he’s more the play maker than Nylander and Matthews is a pure goal scorer.

    Taveras can control the play and Marner is more effective when he has the puck therefore two players who need and want the puck don’t always fit.

    That’s my take at least.

  • Kuwait

    Marleau hits 30 goals 60 points with this lineup. If healthy, Mathews and tavaras have a chance to both be 100 point players, subsequently increasing the totals of everyone else. Also, Hyman has a history of improving every year, so i wouldn’t be surprised to see him break the 50 point total. All the leaf’s wingers will benefit from the tavaras acquisition because of the higher probability of lining up with a center that drives play.