Toronto Maple Leafs: Can Michael Bunting Exceed His Rookie Season?

Michael Bunting had an amazing rookie season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but what should we expect for an encore?

Although he’s 26-years-old, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Bunting was considered a rookie by NHL standards last year and as a result, was nominated for the Calder Trophy after such a stellar campaign.

Finishing the season with 23 goals and 63 points, Bunting fit in well beside Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner and surprised many fans who didn’t know him. After spending the majority of the previous six seasons in the AHL, Kyle Dubas took a chance on Bunting, which paid off tremendously.

After Zach Hyman left the organization, there was a hole to fill on the team’s first-line. You’d think that any NHL player should be able benefit from Matthews’ and Marner’s skillsets, but that wasn’t the case.

Nick Ritchie was the clear-cut favorite to replace Hyman, but that experiment and failed and Bunting filled the role, instead.

What Should the Toronto Maple Leafs Expect From Bunting in Year Two?

In 105 career NHL games, Bunting has 34 goals and 77 points (stats: hockeydb.com). Although the majority of those games came during the 2021-22 season, Bunting has shown that he can contribute at the NHL-level and deserves to stay there.

Although there’s typically a “sophomore slump” for players, that shouldn’t affect Bunting, based on his age. He’s technically been playing professional hockey since 2015, so if anything, the 26-year-old should be more confident and should perform better than his previous campaign.

In terms of an exact goals and point total, I don’t think it would be crazy to expect Bunting to score at a better rate than Hyman did with the Leafs. Hyman’s best stat totals were the following during his time in Toronto:

  • 0.41 Goals Per Game (2019-20 season)
  • 0.76 Points Per Game (2020-21 season – stats: hockeydb.com)

Based on injuries and shortened seasons due to Covid, it only makes sense to use points/goals per game totals, instead of the real amount, as the NHL is finally back to playing a full 82-game schedule.

Bunting finished last season with 0.29 goals per game and 0.80 points per game, so his point total is already higher than any of Hyman’s seasons. As a result, it wouldn’t be shocking to see that total continue to rise, and his goals-per game total should also rise.

After a season of building chemistry and now knowing that he will start the season with Marner and Matthews, that should only excel his points production and Bunting should have the best season of his career, as a result.

30 goals may be a stretch, but if I were a betting-man, I would put the over/under at 27.5 goals and 70.5 points this season. As a result, it may be a smart idea for the Toronto Maple Leafs to get a contract extension settled soon, before the team can’t afford him next year.