After Mats Sundin left the Toronto Maple Leafs, the team struggled to find decent depth at the centre ice position. Most importantly, a player who was a quality top-line centre.
Players such as Nik Antropov, Nazem Kadri, and Tyler Bozak all spent time playing centre for the Toronto Maple Leafs on the top line. Bozak fit the role pretty well but was never a bonafide number one centre. He worked well with Phil Kessel and James Van Riemsdyk and so it made sense to keep him in that spot.
Fast forward to June 24th, 2016, when the Maple Leafs drafted Auston Matthews first overall in the 2016 NHL draft. The team now has a top-line centre for years to come.
In 2018 the Leafs upped the ante when they signed John Tavares to seven year deal with an annual salary-cap hit of $11 million. With both Matthews and Tavares, the team now has a great one-two punch at the centre ice position.
Toronto Maple Leafs Depth At Centre
Matthews made an immediate impact on the Toronto Maple Leafs in his first season. He scored 40 goals and 29 assists for 69 points in 82 games. On his way to 40 goals, he passed Wendel Clark’s record for most goals scored by a Maple Leaf in their rookie season. The previous record was 34 goals set by Clark during the 1985-86 season.
During his first four seasons with the Leafs, Matthews has recorded 158 goals and 127 assists for 285 points in 282 games. Last season, Matthews came very close to having his first 50 goal season but got denied the opportunity when the NHL had to stop the season due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. He finished with 47 goals and 33 assists for 80 points.
This season he’ll be entering the second year of his current five-year contract. Whenever the NHL decides to start the season, it will be a shortened season. That means we will have to wait until the 2021-22 season to see if Matthews can reach 50 goals. (All Stats: hockey-reference.com)
Since Tavares signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the summer of 2018, he has been a great addition to the team. In his first season with Toronto, he recorded 47 goals and 41 assists for 88 points in 82 games.
Last season, Tavares became the 25th Captain in Toronto Maple Leafs history. His stats were not as good in his second season compared to his first, but an injury and a shortened season are to blame. He still managed to score 26 goals and 34 assists for 60 points in 63 games.
You can’t ignore the impact he has had on the team. He has been able to score 73 goals and 75 assists for 148 points in 145 games.
When the Toronto Maple Leafs traded Kadri to Colorado for Tyson Barrie and Kerfoot, a lot of pressure got put on Kerfoot to try and perform as well as Kadri had. Those were unrealistic expectations because he’s a different player. The Leafs didn’t need Kadri’s best skill (offense) and couldn’t give him enough ice time as a third centre to take advantage of his abilities. Kerfoot is better defensively and despite not being a better player, he’s younger, cheaper and provides the Leafs with something they were missing, which is a high-end defensive forward.
During his two seasons with the Avalanche, Kerfoot recorded 43 points and 42 points, respectively but saw a drop in points during his first season in Toronto. He recorded just 28 points in 65 games. Important to note, however, that at 5v5 he scored the same amount per minute of ice time as John Tavares did.
After 15 seasons with the San Jose Sharks, Joe Thornton has come home to play for the Leafs. Thornton has seen his stats decline with age starting to catch up to him. He only had 31 points in 70 games last season but had 51 points in 73 games the season before.
By adding him to the Leafs roster, Toronto has added one of the best playmakers in the game. Thornton is known for being an assist machine, and we will see if playing with a young star-studded team helps to rejuvenate the big man.
Thornton’s career stats are 420 goals and 1,089 assists for 1,509 points in 1,636 games over 22 seasons.
In his first season with the Leafs, Spezza got off to a rough start under former head coach Mike Babcock and got benched a few times. He bounced back and forth from the fourth line to the third line all season.
Although his average ice time last season was 10:50, he still managed to score 25 points in 58 games. He will be looking to find better success under a full season with Sheldon Keefe as head coach. Even if the season ends up being a shortened one, it might benefit older guys like Spezza and Thornton when it’s playoff time.
Toronto also has some promising centres in their system right now. Guys like Alexander Barabanov, Semyon Der-Arguchintsev and Filip Hallander. With the Leafs having Spezza and Thornton in their lineup, these three have more time to develop before joining the big club.