5 players under the most pressure for the Leafs this season

Sep 11 2023, 6:28 pm

After a long offseason, it’s almost time for Toronto Maple Leafs hockey once again.

We’re exactly one month out from the puck dropping on Toronto’s regular season schedule, when the Leafs play host to the Montreal Canadiens on October 11. But their preseason kicks off on September 23, when they’ll be heading up to Ottawa to take on the Senators.

The Leafs are looking to build off of a 2022-23 campaign where they won their first playoff series in 19 years but ultimately fell in the second round to eventual Stanley Cup finalist Florida Panthers.

And, of course, it’ll be a year with big individual expectations for plenty of its players. Here’s the five Leafs facing the biggest pressure for the coming year.

1. William Nylander

As long as he’s on the roster, it’s hard to imagine William Nylander ever not being seen as under some sort of pressure that will perform. For a variety of reasons, Nylander has always been one to be under the public microscope — and it’s only going to get magnified in his contract year, with his six-year deal set to expire next summer.

Nylander doesn’t seem too stressed about being in a contract year from recent media appearances, but given the history of how the fanbase and media have talked about his career, it doesn’t seem like there will be any shortage of buzz surrounding him this season.

2. Ilya Samsonov

By the nature of the position and the market, being the starting goaltender for the Leafs will forever be a pressure-filled role.

After taking the Leafs to arbitration earlier this summer and settling on a one-year deal that takes him to free agency next summer, Samsonov has the chance to either cement himself as the long-term solution for the team in net or perhaps find himself on a new NHL team.

Teams can live and die by a goaltender’s performance come postseason time, and Samsonov will surely want to improve on his .898 save percentage in last year’s postseason.

3. Auston Matthews

Coming off a Hart Trophy campaign in 2021-22 where he scored a franchise-record 60 goals, there were many who accurately predicted Auston Matthews’ regression last season.

But fresh off a contract extension set for the 2024-25 year that makes him the highest-paid player in hockey, Matthews will once again be looked upon to be the team’s most dynamic offensive player.

He’s in an unforgiving spot where he’s shown his ceiling as arguably the game’s best all-around player and anything less than being an MVP candidate again could be viewed as an underperformance.

4. Max Domi

Thirty-five years after his father Tie was drafted by the Leafs, Max Domi will finally suit up for the Blue and White this fall.

It’s now four years removed from the 2018-19 season in Montreal where Domi put up 72 points — and he’s yet to hit the 50-point mark since.

But due to his pedigree (and surname) coupled with the fact he’s on just a one-year deal, Domi will be playing for his future and his past every time he steps on the ice for Toronto this season.

5. John Tavares

It’s pretty much a given that the captain of an Original Six NHL franchise will always be among the players facing the most pressure of anyone in the league.

With two years left on his seven-year mega-contract signed in 2018 for $77 million, the 32-year-old John Tavares still has plenty of mileage remaining in his career.

But as long as the Leafs are looking to find themselves back in the Stanley Cup final for the first time since 1967, the pressure will squarely remain on Tavares’ shoulders as he looks to lead his team through the regular season and beyond.

Adam LaskarisAdam Laskaris

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