Maple Leafs mid-season report cards: rookie edition

Mid-season report cards seem to be a popular thing so let me take a crack at it. Exactly half way through their season, the Maple Leafs find themselves in a playoff spot, despite half of the team being pre-pubescent. This is impressive. Due to this, I will start my “mid-season report card” by rating the Leafs rookies in this piece. All 56 of them. I will then do follow up pieces on the boring old guys ASAP.

Auston Matthews (C)

Boxcar stats:

GP: 41 Goals: 21 (T-3rd in NHL) Assists: 16 Points: 37 (T-23rd in NHL) PPG: 3 PPP: 11 P/GP: .90 (first on the team) TOI/GP: 17.47 (first among Leaf forwards) FOW%: 44

Shots: 143 (11th in NHL) S%: 14.7

5v5 Rate stats:

P/60: 2.39 (22nd in NHL among players with >200 mins played) G/60: 1.66 (fourth in NHL) A/60: .73 PrimaryA/60: .62

Shots/60: 11.74 (fifth in NHL) iCorsi/60: 18.49 (tenth in NHL)

Relative shot metrics (5v5 score, zone and venue adj.):

Rel.CF%: 2.61 Rel.FF%: 4.02 Rel.SCF%: -0.66 Rel.xGF%: 1.75

Mid-season grade: A+

Forty-one games into his NHL career, 19-year-old Auston Matthews looks to (already) be a superstar in the NHL. Matthews is scoring at a top five rate and it seems to be sustainable due to his ability to generate shots. Not only does he pepper shots on net at the fifth highest rate in the league, but a high percentage of these shots are coming from dangerous scoring areas. According to DTM About Heart’s model, Matthews ranks first in the NHL in both 5v5 ixG (14.56) and ixG/60 (1.963). Long story short, Matthews is not only creating shots at a high volume, he’s creating high quality shots. Matthews is also driving play at a high level, which is rare for a teenager, let alone a teenaged centre who leads his team’s forward group in TOI/GP and is on pace for 42 goals. He can also pass when he feels like it.

Matthews doesn’t care if you’re the best defenceman on the planet.

More importantly, here is a thread of all of his goals. They are all perfect.

The only thing Matthews will look to improve heavily on in the future is his faceoff win percentage, but nobody cares about that. Faceoff wins are outrageously overvalued in the hockey world.

Also, look at this beautiful suit (and human).

Screen Shot 2017-01-15 at 10.40.18 AM

Final note: Matthews was the only Maple Leaf named to the NHL All-Star game, but is going to be forced to wear the awful yellow jerseys. He should refuse to report, in my opinion, because the other three are actually pretty nice.

Screen Shot 2017-01-15 at 11.55.26 AM

Mitchell Marner (RW)

Boxcar stats:

GP: 41 Goals: 10 Assists: 25 Points: 35 (T-31st in NHL) PPG: 1 PPP: 11 P/GP: .85 TOI/GP: 17:02 (third among Maple Leafs forwards)

Shots: 108 (T-55th in NHL) S%: 9.3

5v5 Rate stats:

P/60: 2.38 (T-24th in NHL among players with >200 mins played) G/60: .97 A/60: 1.41 PrimaryA/60: .87

Shots/60: 8.01 iCorsi/60: 15.47

Relative shot metrics (5v5 score, zone and venue adj.):

Rel.CF%: -2.41 Rel.FF%: -4.08 Rel.SCF%: -1.22 Rel.xGF%: -3.31

Mid-season grade: A

It always seemed silly to debate whether Marner was going to make the Maple Leafs out of camp this year, but Marner keeps making it look even more nonsensical in hindsight. Marner’s relative shot metrics aren’t good right now, but Marner is one of the most entertaining players to watch due to his creative play. He’s also on pace for 70 points while sporting a relatively low shooting percentage. Look for that to climb a little bit and for Marner’s goal scoring rate to increase, but the thing that really stands out about Marner is his playmaking ability. Below is a video of his 25 assists at the 41 game mark of his career, my favourite being the one touch backhand pass against Montreal in which he completely fools both Shea Weber and Carey Price.

Here are his first ten goals.

Next is a thread I posted from the Leafs’ 5-3 loss to Montreal last Saturday, in which Marner had three primary assists and was creating offence like a mad man.

More importantly, here is Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews singing “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi in the middle of a game filled with line brawls.

Last, but most definitely not least, here he is in a fantastic purple suit.

William Nylander (RW)

Boxcar stats:

GP: 40 Goals: 9 Assists: 19 Points: 28 PPG: 5 PPP: 15 P/GP: 0.70 TOI/GP: 16:05

Shots: 98 S%: 9.2

5v5 Rate stats:

P/60: 1.29 G/60: .47 A/60: .82 PrimaryA/60: .47

Shots/60: 7.13 iCorsi/60: 12.28

Relative shot metrics (5v5 score, zone and venue adj.):

Rel.CF%: 4.26 (team best) Rel.FF%: 4.98 (also team best) Rel.SCF%: 4.13 (surprisingly, not team best) Rel.xGF%: 4.31 (again, team best)

Mid-season grade: A

It feels like people are sleeping on Nylander due to his less gaudy point totals relative to Marner and Matthews, but this guy has been fantastic. Like Marner, his shooting percentage is bound to climb, especially at 5v5 where he’s only shooting 6.56%. He has the best shot metrics on the team and he’s been shuffled around from line to line for some reason. Lately he’s been playing with Kadri and Komarov, but I’d like to see him and Brown flipped back to where they were, Nylander with Matthews and Hyman, Brown with Kadri and Komarov. The reason being the Nylander-Matthews-Hyman line were among the league’s best in shot metrics and that line has taken a significant dip with Brown, while the Kadri line has been pretty similar with either Nylander or Brown. Either way, Nylander has been the team’s best powerplay player and his 5v5 shooting percentage is going to rise in the next half of the season leading to him scoring some more goals.

Here is Nylander scoring a beautiful goal.

He is really, really good at hockey.

Here is a group of young girls swooning over Nylander while totally disregarding the existence of Matthews, Marner and Hyman.

Same, girls, same.

Connor Brown (RW)

Boxcar stats:

GP: 41 Goals: 11 Assists: 9 Points: 20 PPG: 1 PPP: 2 P/GP: .49 TOI/GP: 15.25

Shots: 70 S%: 15.7

5v5 Rate stats:

P/60: 1.82 G/60: .97 A/60: .85 PrimaryA/60: .61

Shots/60: 7.05 iCorsi/60: 11.91

Relative shot metrics (5v5 score, zone and venue adj.):

Rel.CF%: .11 Rel.FF%: .07 Rel.SCF%: -1.92 Rel.xGF%: -.43

Mid-season grade: B+

Along with most Leafs fans, I really like Connor Brown and I’m not surprised by his production. Brown has scored at an above average rate at every level he’s played at, so it seemed inevitable that it would translate to the NHL. He’s obviously not going to be a first line star in the mould of the “big three,” but if he can consistently score at a second or third line rate that’s a great find for a guy picked 156th overall. He’s also been killing penalties (although I don’t actually think he’s very good at it, at least yet) and is a huge Babcock favourite. Since being moved to Matthews’ wing he’s been on fire, which makes sense, but I think his shooting percentage is going to regress a little bit. Brown’s entry-level contract expires at the end of this season, so it’s going to be interesting to see what the Leafs decide to do with him contract wise. Here is him doing good stuff.

And here are his first ten NHL goals.

A Sportsnet “Big Read” on Brown recently came out, if you’re interested in that kind of thing.

http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhl/big-read-connor-brown-everything-right-way/

Zach Hyman (LW)

Boxcar stats:

GP: 41 Goals: 5 Assists: 13 Points: 18 PPG: 0 PPP: 0 P/GP: .44 TOI/GP: 16.55

Shots: 92 S%: 5.4

5v5 Rate stats:

P/60: 1.99 G/60: .55 A/60: 1.44 PrimaryA/60: .88

Shots/60: 8.72 iCorsi/60: 12.36

Relative shot metrics (5v5 score, zone and venue adj.):

Rel.CF%: 2.54 Rel.FF%: 3.87 Rel.SCF%: -.04 Rel.xGF%: 1.79

Mid-season grade: B+

Another one of Babcock’s favourites, Hyman has been glued to Matthews’ hip at 5v5 play and while he’s not nearly as skilled, he’s been pretty effective. Hyman does a lot of the dirty work down low and gets the puck to the net. Say what you will about his skillset, he’s not going to shoot 5.4% his whole career, especially from where most of his shots come from. Hyman also has the most powerplay TOI on the team, in which he’s been pretty good. While I don’t think he should be stuck to the best player on the team’s hip at 5v5 long term, Hyman is a useful player. Like Brown, Hyman is basically found money, as the Leafs traded Greg McKegg to get him. Also like Brown, Hyman will be an RFA this summer, so they’ll probably sign him to an outrageously long-term deal if Babcock has any say.

Here is a good piece on Hyman’s value and what he brings to the Leafs: http://theleafsnation.com/2017/1/9/zach-hyman-is-likely-here-to-stay

Here is Hyman doing Hyman stuff.

Nikita Zaitsev (D)

Boxcar stats:

GP: 41 Goals: 1 Assists: 15 Points: 16 PPG: 0 PPP: 4 P/GP: .39 TOI/GP: 22.28

Shots: 56 S%: 1.8

5v5 Rate stats:

P/60: .84 G/60: .08 A/60: .75 PrimaryA/60: .33

Shots/60: 3.52 iCorsi/60: 10.13

Relative shot metrics (5v5 score, zone and venue adj.):

Rel.CF%: -.3 Rel.FF%: -1.13 Rel.SCF%: -6.96 Rel.xGF%: -3.88

Mid-season grade: B+

Yet another case of found money, the 25-year-old Russian defenceman was signed in the summer by the Maple Leafs. Although Zaitsev to the Leafs was one of the worst kept secrets in the world, I didn’t exactly know what to expect from Zaitsev. I don’t think many people did, but he’s been a solid player for the Leafs despite being thrown to the wolves as a top pairing defenceman almost immediately. While I’m not sure he’s cut out for top pairing duties in the NHL, he’s done fine in the role as Rielly’s right hand man (get it? He’s the right handed defence parter lmao.) Zaitsev and Carrick sliding into the top four as the two right handed defencemen has been a godsend for the Leafs considering all they had at this time last year on the right side was Frank Corrado and Roman Polak. Like everybody else, I’d love to see the Leafs trade or sign a top tier RHD to take over the top pairing duties while relieving Zaitsev of the heavy lifting on the right side, but he’s been a good place holder. Like Brown and Hyman, Zaitsev is an RFA at season’s end and Babcock seems to be a huge fan. He’ll likely command a significantly larger contract than the former two based on his age and the heavy workload.

Below: Zaitsev doing good hockey stuff.

Nikita Soshnikov (RW)

Boxcar stats:

GP: 31 Goals: 1 Assists: 3 Points: 4 PPG: 0 PPP: 1 P/GP: .13 TOI/GP: 10.44

Shots: 39 S%: 2.6

5v5 Rate stats:

P/60: .67 G/60: .22 A/60: .45 PrimaryA/60: .45

Shots/60: 6.91 iCorsi/60: 13.15

Relative shot metrics (5v5 score, zone and venue adj.):

Rel.CF%: -4.56 Rel.FF%: -2.54 Rel.SCF%: -7.96 Rel.xGF%: -3.28

Mid-season grade: D+

Another case of found money, Soshnikov, like Zaitsev, was signed out of Russia, but a year earlier. When all the Marlies were called up last season he scored a couple of nice goals and a nice shootout goal, which got some people’s hopes a little bit too high. Don’t get me wrong, I believe Soshnikov has the potential to be a nice piece in a bottom six role, but the hype was a little unrealistic. Unfortunately, he’s been thrown under the bus this year by being played with Matt Martin and either Ben Smith or Frederik Gauthier. His linemates are objectively bad, so he has virtually no opportunity to create any offence or even see a decent amount of ice-time. This could be solved by booting Martin into the Sun and sending Gauthier back to the Marlies in favour of a guy like Brendan Leipsic. You could then put Soshnikov on the wing with Kadri and Nylander while moving Komarov into the fourth line centre role. A fourth line of Leipsic-Komarov-Leivo would be infinitely better than Martin-Gauthier-Soshnikov, in my opinion, but I digress. Until then, Soshnikov can only work with what he’s given. He’s still generating shots at a decent rate and he’ll score a few goals in the back half of the season when his shooting percentage inevitably rises significantly from his current 2.6% conversion rate. Soshnikov is also a pain in the ass to opposition players similar to Komarov.

His one goal this season:

Here’s the nice goals from last season referenced:

First NHL goal:

Second:

Frederik Gauthier (C)

Boxcar stats:

GP: 11 Goals: 2 Assists: 1 Points: 3 PPG: 0 PPP: 0 P/GP: .27 TOI/GP: 8.56 FOW%: 51.2

Shots: 7 S%: 28.6

5v5 Rate stats:

P/60: 2.14 G/60: 1.42 A/60: .71 PrimaryA/60: 0

Shots/60: 4.99 iCorsi/60: 8.55

Relative shot metrics (5v5 score, zone and venue adj.):

Rel.CF%: -4.66 Rel.FF%: -4.3 Rel.SCF%: -4.31 Rel.xGF%: -5.94

Mid-season grade: D

Frederik Gauthier was a very bad first round selection by the previous Leafs regime, let’s just get that out of the way real quick. You don’t go for a bottom six player in the first round (or any round, in my opinion) you take a home run swing at the most talented player you can get your hands on. Unfortunately, at the time the Goat was drafted, the Leafs were run by an incompetent management team and they decided to pick a guy with a very low ceiling and no scoring ability because of biases toward size and other intangibles. Predictably, Gauthier hasn’t worked out. He’s scored at a very low rate for the Marlies, but finds himself with the Leafs in a fourth line centre role due to a Ben Smith injury and, to be honest, I’m not sure which player is worse. Gauthier seems like a very unique human, and a good human, at that, but he’s not very good as a pro hockey player. I’m sure Babcock will like the Goat due to the same biases I referenced with past management teams, but there are simply a lot better options to fill out the fourth line. In his admittedly small sample size, he’s been bad at both even-strength and the penalty kill based on the shot metrics. I’ve heard he had an offer from Harvard a few years ago and I’m kind’ve hoping he has a change of heart and decides to go back to school before Babcock decides to give him a long-term roster spot.

I’d hate to end this on a negative note, though, so here’s Freddy the Goat scoring goals!

Even better, let’s end this with Marner and Matthews looking like prohibition era gangsters!

*stats courtesy of corsica.hockey, stats.hockeyanalysis.com and nhl.com.

*big shout out to Jeff for being an elite GIFer.

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