Toronto Maple Leafs defenders Jake Gardiner and Nikita Zaitsev have come under more fire than they deserve.
Before this season started, the Toronto Maple Leafs deciding to put Gardiner and Zaitsev together didn’t seem like a bad idea. On the second pairing, it had both players with some offensive capabilities and are great at moving the puck.
By the end of the Leafs’ season, both players were quickly under fire for their play during the 2017/18 season.
Jake Gardiner had a great season with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He notched a career high 52 points this past season, after improving year after year. It’s likely that he gets even more next year.
The biggest flaw Jake has is making mistakes at really bad times. He makes as many mistakes as most NHLers do, but his for example, will result in a goal or prevent Toronto from scoring. Rather than a simple turnover or dumb penalty.
A good example of that is when Jake DeBrusk scored in game 7 for Boston in the first round of the playoffs. Gardiner saw him coming and knew he needed to adjust himself and turn around, but turned towards the other way giving DeBrusk too much space. Many say Andersen should have had it, and many blame Gardiner for that goal. To be honest it was a bit of both, but that was one mistake with big consequences that seems to happen quite a lot.
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No one seems to see the good things in Gardiner’s game that set him apart from all of the rest. He is very good at skating the puck out of trouble, he’s very shifty and is probably a top skater in the NHL. Gardiner finished 15th in points for defencemen, tying team-mate Morgan Rielly. All being done while being paired with Zaitsev, who only finished with 13 points all season.
Since Babcock was hired as coach he has been shaping and molding Gardiner into the player he wants him to be. He has been improving year after year and is close to a final product. The wait is worth it for Gardiner, he can and will be a fantastic Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman.
Just One Year
Nikita Zaitsev just recently finished his second season with the Toronto Maple Leafs. His rookie year was something that Leafs fans got excited for, seeing that in his first season he got 36 points. Those numbers aren’t bad at all. Expecting an improvement, fans weren’t happy with his 13 point finish, and rightfully so. Zaitsev had a disappointing year, somehow getting less than 15 points when his d-partner, Jake Gardiner, had 52.
Being signed for another six years at $4.5 million, it was known that people would be upset with his performance this season. If he continues this way, he will not only be a liability, but a waste of salary. The good thing is that he won’t.
Nikita Zaitsev showed us in his rookie season that he can be strong on the puck, he’s quick and can battle with big players. That doesn’t just come and go away in a year. Yes, he did have a bad year, but that doesn’t mean he is going to continue that way. Even the best NHLers have off years, but that doesn’t mean they don’t bounce back.
Both Toronto Maple Leafs defencemen are better than what they’ve been credited for as of late. With a little patience and a look at their whole game, we’ll see these two perform as well as fans hope.
stats from hockey-reference.com, capfriendly.com, quanthockey.com