Leafs getting ridiculously good production from rookies this season

Oct 28 2016, 6:55 pm

The Toronto Maple Leafs have only played seven games this season, but their rookies are already making a major impact on the team.

Of the Leafs’ 62 points this season, over half of them have come from rookies. Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner are the top three scorers on the team, and all three are in their first NHL season.

Before the season started, many expected another disastrous year for the Leafs, saying it would take more time before reaping the benefits of the rebuild. At 2-2-3, they aren’t off to the greatest of starts, but that record doesn’t really show the full story.

The Leafs lost only one game by more than a goal this season, a 7-3 loss to Tampa Bay. In that game, the Leafs outshot the Lightning 43-24. It was a great game for the opposing netminder Ben Bishop, and statistically the worst game of Frederik Andersen’s entire career.

Goaltending tends to balance out over the course of a season, and the team’s current save percentage of .869 is sure to go up. Last season the Calgary Flames had the worst goaltending in the league, and even then they managed a .892 SV%. Every other team was .900 or above.

People often read too much into early season play, and in terms of Andersen and the Leafs, that seems to be the case here. He had a good showing in the Leafs’ 3-2 win against Florida, making 29 saves for his second win wearing the white and blue.

This isn’t about Andersen though, it’s about the young guns making an impact for the Leafs. It really is quite remarkable. The Leafs’ 32 rookie points are almost triple the next best team, 12 points from the Philadelphia Flyers rookies. That’s not only because the Leafs have the most rookies, it’s because the ones they have are clearly ready to make an impact in the NHL.

Auston Matthews

Matthews has been the poster boy for the Leafs this season, and managed to increase the hype around him after four goals in his NHL debut. He obviously hasn’t been putting up four goals every game, but he does lead the team in goals (6), points (10), and shots (30).

He’s on pace for 350 shots, a mark that’s tough to sustain, considering only Brent Burns (353) and Alex Ovechkin (398) hit that mark last season. His shooting percentage (20%) also likely isn’t sustainable, but Matthews’ hot start has proven he’ll be an effective player in this league, even if his production dips from its current levels.

William Nylander

Nylander has found great chemistry playing with Matthews, combining to be the biggest offensive threat on the team so far this season. He sits second on the team in both points (9) and shots (27).

His shooting percentage of 14.8% is high, but not completely unsustainable. Still, numbers suggest the Nylander-Matthews line should dip in production simply based on goalies around the league doing better. The league average save percentage right now is .906, and it hasn’t been finished below .911 in any of the past seven seasons.

Still, it’s encouraging that Nylander and Matthews have been able to produce ahead of some of the team’s other offensive threats, namely James van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri, and Tyler Bozak.

Mitch Marner

Marner wasn’t making headlines right out of the gate like the other two, but make no mistake, he’s the real-deal. He has six points in seven games, including three assists in their last game against Florida.

Marner only has one goal, but is fourth on the team in shots at 19. That’s a 5.3 shooting percentage and contrary to the other two listed, Marner is due for some better puck luck in terms of goal scoring.

What’s even more impressive – especially for a guy of his size – is that Marner has been excellent in the defensive end. He leads all forwards on the team with nine blocked shots, and Mike Babcock has expressed openly his appreciation for Marner’s two-way play.

Of course, his offence is still the most appealing part of his game.

Overall, the Leafs are both scoring and being scored on at an unsustainable rate. Those numbers are sure to even out over the course of the season, but don’t bet against Toronto’s exceptional rookies leading the way throughout.

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