The Toronto Maple Leafs finally won game 2 of a back-to-back on Saturday night.
All it took was the common sense to play Frederik Andersen on the back-end of a back-to-back, something the Toronto Maple Leafs should have done a lot sooner.
Looking past the sigh of relief of finally getting over the “back-to-back syndrome”, disappointment dominates over the results, losing ground to the Buffalo Sabres in the two games (the Sabres took three of four points, while the Leafs took two of four).
The Toronto Maple Leafs keep on struggling against (playoff competing) divisional rivals. The results against their divisional rivals, playoff-contending teams for that matter, need to improve.
Luckily, the team could count on one of their superstars last night, who’s enjoying his delayed breakout season, William Nylander.
Not more than a year ago, Nylander started midway in the season due to contract negotiations that carried on until the deadline. Nylander took the heat for it, badly.
Allegedly, Nylander was greedy. His contract? Horrible. At the end of the negotiations, it didn’t matter what he was going to get paid, he would be overpaid anyway.
Fast forward a year, Nylander is on pace for a record season. Oh, and his contract appears to be one of the best bargains in the NHL.
Nylander is on pace to tally 30 goals on the season, not bad, eh? His pace for assists is currently identical, with the number of chances Nylander is creating, noting an SCF% of 57.18%, it’s likely that pace will improve. (all stats for this article courtesy of naturalstattrick).
It’s not unthinkable Nylander will become a point per game player this season or comes close to it, signed for $6,962,366, that’s a definite bargain.
Aside from Nylander thriving under Keefe (as one of the best puck possession players in hockey, Keefe’s game is tailor made for Nylander) there’s a lot of untapped potential to the current Toronto Maple Leafs team and not just on an individual level.
The special teams haven’t been great this season, ranking 13th in powerplay and 27th in penalty kill. With the skill sets on this team, that’s far below expectations. Improving on these two area’s alone would lift the Toronto Maple Leafs a whole new level.
With Nylander on the ice, the Toronto Maple Leafs control 57% of the possession, 56% of the shots and goals, 57% of the scoring chances and 60% of the high-danger scoring chances.
Those are elite totals.
Nylander is scoring 2.38 points per 60 minutes of ice time, which is 10th highest in the NHL for players who have played 400 minutes.
With 16 5v5 points, he sits only two points outside the top ten. Only the Leafs unlucky power play has kept Nylander from higher totals overall but they will come. (Additionally, 5v5 scoring is more repeatable, more important, and less opportunity/luck driven).
Nylander has 13 points in his last 13 games. He also has the best puck possession numbers for a winger in hockey, and is 5th overall, and second among forwards to Auston Matthews. (400 Minutes).
It is incontrovertible that Nylander has become an elite player. As one of the best even-strength players in the NHL, he is one of the best players in the NHL. And he is the Leafs best defensive player. Which means he’s one of the best two-way players in the NHL.
This is a truly exciting breakout to watch unfold before our eyes.