Toronto Maple Leafs: An In-Depth Look at the Nylander-Tavares Line

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 29: Tanner Pearson #70 of the Vancouver Canucks battles against John Tavares #91 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at Scotiabank Arena on February 29, 2020 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Canucks 4-2. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 29: Tanner Pearson #70 of the Vancouver Canucks battles against John Tavares #91 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at Scotiabank Arena on February 29, 2020 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Canucks 4-2. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /

Matthews and Marner have been at the forefront of the Toronto Maple Leafs success with how well they have both performed.

It doesn’t take a professional to notice the impact both Matthews and Marner have had on the early success of the Toronto Maple Leafs through 13 games. Both players are in the race for the most points and goals in the league, unsurprisingly.

With Matthews and Marner being the focal point of the Leafs, Tavares and Nylander have been quiet in the background.

It seems as though Tavares and Nylander haven’t been as present from what we might expect of them from previous seasons. This is not to say both players have been bad, and this is why it’s important we look a little more in-depth into what is going on with the duo.

Both Nylander and Tavares have a respectable amount of points with a matching 12 points in 13 games, but it’s important to look more in-depth as points can be misleading for various reasons such as powerplay points making up most of the totals.

Through 135 minutes at 5v5, the duo has a 55CF%, 70GF%, and a 57.75xGF%. These numbers are really good. The Leafs are getting most of the shot attempts, goals, and expected goals with these two on the ice together which is exactly what is required of them for the Leafs to have success.

From watching all of the games, the two players have not appeared as dominant as the stats might suggest. But as I dig deeper into the data, it does make a great deal of sense why this is the case. Both Tavares and Nylander have been limiting chances against at an elite rate, a Marchand-Bergeron level might be a good way to put it.

The duo is creating slightly less offense, though it is easily being made up for with the defensive level of play. It is easier to spot the offensive contributions than the defensive contributions from simply watching the game, this is why from watching many might not notice how well the line is performing.

It is a known fact that Tavares and Nylander are offensive players, not defensive players. It is difficult to believe that the two will continue this defensive level of play going forward, but as we have seen from the past there is plenty of room for the two to improve offensively.

Overall though, it is difficult to be upset when the line is outscoring the opponent 7 to 3 at 5v5. Yes, it would be nice for them to cause more havoc in the offensive zone, but it is also really impressive how well they have performed defensively. (All data from

Tavares and Nylander have gone through a number of wingers so far this season and none of them have really been a good enough of a fit to stick with the line for more than a few games. This begs the question;

Who Is The Third Winger on the Tavares-Nylander line?

Jimmy Vesey, Ilya Mikheyev, Zach Hyman, and Wayne Simmonds have all played more than a few games with the duo.

There hasn’t been one who has clearly stuck together with the two players.

Let’s break down how every player has done with the line starting with Jimmy Vesey.

It is really difficult to say much about Jimmy Vesey, he simply has not done much to contribute other than be a decent finisher off perfect feeds from Nylander such as this one.  Other than Vesey’s ability to score from being set up, there is minimal that he does on a nightly basis to be a great fit with Tavares and Nylander.

Ilya Mikheyev has the worst results numbers-wise with the duo and seems like he’s having some confidence issues lately with his lack of goals. Mikheyev is a great player on the forecheck and can transition the puck well, but other than that his offensive skills are lacking. Mikheyev’s 23 points in 39 games from last season seem like a writeoff, he is really weak in the offensive zone. With two players in Tavares and Nylander who are such incredible playmakers, having Mikheyev in the mix is like deadweight in the offensive zone at times.

Zach Hyman is the perfect guy to be with Tavares and Nylander, the only issue being that Hyman is pretty stapled to the Matthews and Marner line, and it would be hard to break apart that line at this point. Only if there was another Zach Hyman on the Leafs.

In his short stint, Wayne Simmonds appears to be doing a respectable job with the duo, I would like to see him play more with the line in the future. It’s really unfortunate that he got injured, hopefully, he will return sooner rather than later. Simmonds’s ability to create havoc in front of the net and be a good finisher is very compelling.

As it stands at the moment, Simmonds appears as the best option to play with Tavares and Nylander though there are other guys that would be interesting to see play with the two players.  Another case to be explored is when Thornton returns, where does he play?

Does he go back with the Matthews line? Does he play third-line center? Could he play with Tavares and Nylander?  If Thornton plays third-line center, this could allow Kerfoot to move up the lineup and play with Tavares and Nylander. Kerfoot played a significant number of minutes with Tavares and Nylander last season and they did pretty well with a 53.89CF%, 50GF%, and a 56.66xGF% in almost 200 minutes.

Though if Thornton is moved back with the Matthews line, Hyman could switch to playing with Tavares and Nylander which we know for a fact that the line is bound to succeed.  Thornton playing with Tavares and Nylander would be interesting, the passing ability of Thornton could help get Tavares and Nylander plenty of goals.

There are some players who have not yet got the opportunity to play in the top 6 that I think might be interesting to try out.  Engvall is a player who could be tested on the line with his defensive capability, transition ability, and he is respectable in other areas of the game. I doubt we will see Engvall this high in the lineup the way Keefe has talked about him, but it could be worth trying out.

There is also Nick Robertson who could roll into the lineup if the coaching staff is confident enough in him. The energy he brings along with his lethal shot could be fantastic. I don’t know if Robertson is ready for the NHL at this point, but it would be great to see when Robertson is healthy.

There are plenty of different ways to move players around that would be interesting to see, it would be amazing if one of the Toronto Maple Leafs depth players were to come in and really be a perfect fit with Tavares and Nylander.

There also is the option of a trade which is something worth exploring, though the Toronto Maple Leafs cap situation and the border situation makes that a hard move to make.


The second line with Tavares and Nylander has been good for most of the season, their defensive numbers are really impressive thus far. There is room to ask for more offense from these players given what we have seen from them offensively in the past, but it is hard to be too upset overall based on the numbers when the line is on the ice.

Through the 13 games so far this season, the duo has had several different linemates and none of them have stuck. Sheldon Keefe will likely have to keep trying to find a good third option from inside the organization.

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When more players return from injuries, there might be some major shuffling in the lineup, which will be interesting to see.