Toronto Maple Leafs Mid-Season Player Grades

I know that the Seinfeld holiday of Festivus was three weeks ago, but I think now is a great time to practice the Airing of Grievances. I’ve got a lot of problems with these people, and now you’re gonna hear about it.

Simply put, the Leafs have been pretty good since Sheldon Keefe took over. There is still very clearly work to be done. The question that I have is whether or not Kyle Dubas has more work to do than Sheldon Keefe at this point: are the Leafs built well enough right now to make the deep run that Leafs nation desperately longs for? Or, does Kyle Dubas need to shuffle some cards to make this work? Let’s take a look at what the Leafs’ roster has done for themselves and each other so far this season.

FORWARDS:

# 91 John Tavares, Center (Captain)

Statistics: 39GP, 17G 20A 37PTS, 19:32 TOI, 52.96xGF%

Season Highlight: Overtime winner on November 30th against the Sabres:

John Tavares’ Grade: B+ 

Season Summary: Tavares was out nearly three weeks with a broken finger in late October, and it’s felt as if he has been trying to get back to 100% since then. Even at about 85%, Tavares leads the Leafs’ in many underlying numbers such as individual expected goals, rebounds created, rush attempts, and penalties drawn. He is also well-over 50% in all possession metrics according to naturalstattrick. All in all, Tavares’ first season as Leafs’ captain has been successful so far, even though it feels like he’s still working to get the most from himself.

# 34 Auston Matthews, Center

Statistics: 46GP, 31G 23A 54PTS, 20:14 TOI, 55.63xGF%

Season Highlight: I mean, this:

Auston Matthews’ Grade: A

Season Summary: This is mostly what people expected from a healthy Auston Matthews. Although he does have a tendency to disappear some nights, this is an inevitability during an 82-game schedule. Ultimately, Matthews has been creative and opportunistic most nights this season. At his worst, he can blend in and make some mistakes, but nothing too costly. At his best, he is one of the most dangerous players in the NHL with the puck. Matthews has been electric. All I can say is keep it coming.

# 16 Mitch Marner, Right Wing

Statistics: 35GP, 13G 31A 44PTS, 20:53 TOI, 55.27xGF%

Season Highlight: Scoring the go-ahead goal four seconds after the Leafs tie the game in the 3rd period against Carolina:

Mitch Marner’s Grade: A

Season Summary: Marner has been able to improve on some consistency issues that have plagued him during his young career. Especially since the coaching change, Marner has been the dominant NHL forward that he’d shown intermittently in previous years. It seems that he has finally reached his potential, and is well on his way to earning every cent of that big paycheque this year. He leads the Leafs in many advanced metrics since the coaching change, and the eye test would also tell you that he’s putting his nose to the grindstone every single shift. As a result, he gets to sing Bon Jovi with Auston all weekend in St. Louis at the All-Star Game.

# 88 William Nylander, Right Wing

Statistics: 46GP, 19G 20A 39PTS, 17:55 TOI, 54.55xGF%

Season Highlight: Nylander carries the puck up the ice, creates a clean zone-entry and finishes off a tic-tac-toe passing play with a beautiful move against the defending Cup champs:

William Nylander’s Grade: A-

Season Summary: While Nylander was solid during the second half of 2018/19, he failed to produce at an elite level. This season, he has been consistent and able to capitalize on the opportunities that he is so good at creating. He has fallen victim to the “third assist” problem many times, but he has been very reliable for creating rushes and zone entries. The most impressive thing so far is that he has been pretty solid defensively as well. He is a puck possession wonder, and always has been, but this year he is actually getting rewarded for it. 

# 11 Zach Hyman, Left Wing

Statistics: 27GP, 11G 8A 19PTS, 18:32 TOI, 54.48xGF%

Season Highlight: His two-goal game on December 21st against Detroit:

Zach Hyman’s Grade: B+

Season Summary: Hyman missed the first month and change of the season while recovering from ACL surgery he had in the spring. Since returning, Hyman looks like a man on a mission, and is playing some of his best hockey as a Toronto Maple Leaf. He is one of Sheldon Keefe’s most trusted defensive forwards, and with 11 goals on the year, he is chipping in at an impressive rate offensively. In addition, he works incredibly hard, which is always a bonus in Toronto with a fanbase that is obsessed with trying to find a modern clone of Wendel Clark or Darcy Tucker. 

# 65 Ilya Mikheyev, Left Wing

Statistics: 39GP, 8G 15A 23PTS, 15:35 TOI, 53.02xGF%

Off-ice Season Highlight: Telling us that we don’t eat enough soup in North America. And I’d have to agree with him. My hometown doesn’t have a place with great soup. I wish Ilya would help us change that. If he ran for Mayor, I’d vote for him. Soup for all.

On-ice Season Highlight: Breaking the net camera in Edmonton. He’s made plenty of nice plays. But scoring the game winning goal and then apologizing for it means that he is now officially Canadian:

Ilya Mikheyev’s Grade: B+

Season Summary: It’s truly impressive how Mikheyev was able to adjust to the North American game so fast. From day one, he’s looked very comfortable in the Leafs’ lineup. Both coaches seemed to like him, and it’s easy because of his work ethic. Mikheyev has proven himself to be a guy that wants to be good at his job. He has even started conversations among fans about trading other current contracts in order to keep him. Although part of that is probably a result of being the shiny new toy, he has been good enough that those conversations are justifiable. It is unfortunate that the Leafs’ will likely be without him until mid-March at the absolute earliest. If he is able to rehab and return before the playoffs, Mikheyev is about as good of a deadline acquisition as you could ask for without having to give up anything in return. Heal up, my sweet Soupboy.

# 24 Kasperi Kapanen, Right Wing

Statistics: 46GP, 10G 18A 28PTS, 16:14 TOI, 52.11 Corsi%

Season Highlight: A sweet setup for Pierre Engvall makes Noah Dobson look silly:

Kasperi Kapanen’s Grade: B-

Season Summary: Boy oh boy, did his season ever start on a disastrous note. Through the first five or so games of the year, Kapanen was a complete disaster. He made plenty of costly mistakes, including the infamous stick toss vs. Montreal (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DxBNwTfozi8). However, the other 40 games have been fairly impressive. Although he hasn’t been as good defensively as you would hope, his offensive output has been great. He is producing at a higher level than you would expect at his price point, and has been responsible with the puck despite not having the skill to pull off some of the moves he desires to make. He also has nine points in his last eight games. This is the version of Kapanen I’d like to see more of.

# 18 Andreas Johnsson, Left Wing

Statistics: 31GP, 6G 10A 16PTS, 16:47 TOI, 52.45xGF%

Season Highlight: Between the legs goal vs. Montreal:

Andreas Johnsson’s Grade: C+

Season Summary: Johnsson played his first game on Sunday night since December 4th. Although many people seem down on Johnsson’s season, a large reason for that is the recency bias; we just haven’t seen the guy play in a while. Johnsson has been excellent beside Auston Matthews this season. However, Johnsson has struggled mightily in the limited shifts he’s played without Auston Matthews. Johnsson has shown he’s a useful player without Matthews in the past, and that will be the challenge for him moving forward assuming that Sheldon Keefe intends to keep Zach Hyman with Matthews and Marner.

# 15 Alexander Kerfoot, Center/Left Wing

Statistics: 41GP, 7G 11A 18PTS, 14:51 TOI, 51.92xGF%

Season Highlight: Spin-o-rama pass to Zach Hyman to tie the game against his former team:

Alexander Kerfoot’s Grade: C

Season Summary: Kerfoot has struggled to find rhythm in his first season with the Leafs. His season started by taking routinely inopportune penalties in a manner that can only be described as Antropovian. Injuries and a suspension have taken him out of the lineup a few times. Combine that with being flipped from center to wing on top of a coaching change, Kerfoot is that guy in the lineup that seems like he’s been jerked around so far, even if part of that is his own fault. This happens, and it shouldn’t be considered an inditement of his abilities. Since being put on a line with Tavares and Nylander, Kerfoot has shown he has the skill, but is still working to put that together consistently. It will come. 

# 19 Jason Spezza, Center

Statistics: 34GP, 6G 11A 17PTS, 10:52 TOI, 52.10xGF%

Season Highlight: An absolute rocket against the Golden Knights:

Jason Spezza’s Grade: C

Season Summary: While Spezza struggled mightily under Mike Babcock, it seems as if most of the blame for that could be placed squarely on the former coach. It looked like an inevitability that in the days before season highlight goal was scored that Spezza would be traded, or waived. And quite honestly, deservedly so. The issue is that 19 wasn’t given the opportunity to succeed until Sheldon Keefe took over. While Spezza does hop around the lineup under Keefe, it is clear that the new coach trusts Spezza. I didn’t see this working out, but I guess the veteran of nearly 1100 games and former 2nd overall pick might know what he’s doing. 

# 47 Pierre Engvall, Center/Left Wing

Statistics: 24GP, 7G 5A 12PTS, 11:59 TOI, 51.92xGF% 

Season Highlight: Really hard to top that first goal:

Pierre Engvall’s Grade: B

Season Summary: Engvall has been about as good as you can expect a bottom-six forward to be. He has shown the ability to drive his own line which is something that Kerfoot struggled with. Engvall has been a good penalty killer, and is a guy that can play late game pressure situations. He is an incredibly rare rookie. It doesn’t make him an NHL star quite yet. However, he has been a star for the Maple Leafs’ most nights in his very young career. Credit to the kid, he’s changed that classic Leafs twitter argument from “should they trade Kapanen or Johnsson” into “let’s trade them both” very quickly. 

# 33 Frederik Gauthier, Center

Statistics: 42GP, 5G 4A 9PTS, 9:35 TOI, 125 defensive zone starts (leads TOR)

Season Highlight: The goal off the rush to cut the Oilers lead to two:

Frederik Gauthier’s Grade: D+

Season Summary: I have long been a defender of Gauthier, and this season hasn’t changed. However, there are admittedly limitations to his game that have become clear this season. Gauthier does not drive offence, and while he makes very few defensive errors, the logistics of his usage becomes an issue in the big picture. If he were able to create more offence, he’d be a force to be reckoned with in terms of being a dynamic two-way forward. He struggles to create offence, and ultimately cannot be used very much other than defensive zone face-offs in which the Leafs are already leading. He is a specialty forward, but he is quite good at that.

# 41 Dmytro Timashov, Left Wing

Statistics: 31GP, 4G 5A 9PTS, 8:10 TOI, 51.41xGF% (*under Keefe)

Season Highlight: Absolute snipe for his first NHL goal, against the Bruins, on a Saturday night no less:

Dmytro Timashov’s Grade: D

Season Summary: I understand why Timashov made the team. I see the talent. At some point, results need to beat talent. The good news is that Timashov has been better under Keefe than under Babcock. Having said that, Timashov might benefit from more of an offensive role because he doesn’t seem to possess the defensive ability to succeed alongside a Gauthier-type. I do wonder if Timashov ends up being a casualty of the trade deadline, but I think the kid has quite a bit to offer. So far, he has been admittedly forgettable. 

# 42 Trevor Moore, Left Wing

Statistics: 22GP, 3G 2A 5PTS, 13:49 TOI, 45.97xGF%

Season Highlight: A beautiful shorthanded assist to Kasperi Kapanen:

Trevor Moore’s Grade: C-

Season Summary: Many of Moore’s underlying numbers are misleading because of the situation he was in prior to his injury. Moore played quite a bit with line mates that struggled, and most of his season was played under a coach that completely mismanaged the talent he had. Moore has played just under ten total minutes for Sheldon Keefe, having played just one game since November 15th. It’s hard to really evaluate Moore’s season to date, and it is safe to assume that Moore is still very much the tenacious forechecker he proven to be in the past. The Leafs anxiously await his return.

# 61 Nic Petan, Forward

Statistics: 16GP, 0G 3A 3PTS, 11:07 TOI, 53.01xGF%

Season Highlights: *sigh*:

Nic Petan’s Grade: D

Season Summary: I’m a big fan. Simply put, I still think there’s something there. However, he is one of (if not the only) player that seemingly has struggled more under Keefe than Babcock. I haven’t really worked out why that is either. He is a good dude, and I hope he comes back up and succeeds. 

# 77 Adams Brooks, Center

Statistics: 6GP, 0G 3A 3PTS, 7:12 TOI, 55.76xGF%

Season Highlights: First NHL point comes in his hometown to open the scoring:

Adam Brooks’ Grade: C

Season Summary: Brooks has been the ideal 4th line center in his limited time. He has a similar skill set to Trevor Moore. Keefe has done a great job to isolate his minutes, but he has also done a good job with those minutes. It is still very early on Brooks, but there’s been a lot to like so far. 

*Not mentioned above: Pontus Aberg, Mason Marchment (short sample), Nick Shore (currently with Winnipeg Jets).

DEFENCE:

# 44 Morgan Rielly, Defence

Statistics: 46GP, 3G 24A 27PTS, 24:15 TOI, 50.83xGF%

Season Highlight: Overtime winner against the dreaded Bruins on October 19th:

Morgan Rielly’s Grade: C+

Season Summary: It’s been very clear that Morgan Rielly hasn’t looked right since about the third or fourth game of the season. He has been dealing with an unidentified lower-body injury. To me, he looked unbelievable the first few nights, and has slowly faded since then. He has had a lot of unfortunate moments this year. Even Morgan Rielly at what I am going to call 75% is still a pretty good defenceman, but the Leafs could use more. Unfortunately, they won’t be getting anything out of Morgan Rielly until at least the end of February due to a broken foot suffered Sunday against the Panthers. Hopefully this will help Rielly rest whatever issue has been bothering him this whole time. Who knows, maybe that foot has always been broken.

# 8 Jake Muzzin, Defence

Statistics: 38GP, 3G 10A 13PTS, 21:21 TOI, 54.32 Corsi%

Season Highlight: Muzzin buries a beautiful feed from Timashov for the dagger against the Red Wings:

Jake Muzzin Grade: B

Season Summary: Muzzin has been the Leafs most consistent defenceman this year. His usage has varied significantly, but the veteran defender has been able to make it all work. He plays very well with Justin Holl, and the two have had some exceptional nights shutting down some of the best offence’s in the league together. Muzzin is still out for the time being with a broken foot, and now without Morgan Rielly, the Leafs can’t wait to get him back.

# 3 Justin Holl, Defence

Statistics: 44GP, 1G 12A 13PTS, 16:37 TOI, 52.88 Corsi%

Season Highlight: With plays like this on December 14th, Holl made Connor McDavid looks like just another player:

Justin Holl’s Grade: B-

Season Summary: Holl has had some issues with consistency, but nothing worrisome. He has been a stellar top-4 defenceman which is more than Leaf fans everywhere could’ve ever dreamed of considering he sat beside the concession stands for most of 2018-19. He has been absolutely brilliant defensively some nights, and has even been the go-to defender for Sheldon Keefe on occasion. Holl has been a great surprise for Toronto, and still seems to get underrated because of the context of his success. Still, Leaf fans should rest easy knowing they do have at least one steady, healthy defenceman right now.

# 94 Tyson Barrie, Defence

Statistics: 46GP, 4G 20A 24PTS, 21:13 TOI, 54.26 Corsi%

Season Highlight: Season opener against Ottawa to set up Ilya Mikheyev’s first NHL goal:

Tyson Barrie’s Grade: C+

Season Summary: A tale of two seasons for Tyson Barrie so far. Barrie was abysmal under Mike Babcock, but has been the offensive thrill-seeking talent under Keefe that was advertised when he came over from Colorado. With Barrie’s offensive ability comes his well documented defensive struggles, but if he can create more goals for than he causes against, he is well worth it. He has done a lot of that, but the Leafs need more from Barrie moving forward without Rielly/Muzzin.

# 23 Travis Dermott, Defence

Statistics: 33GP, 4G 4A 8PTS, 14:50 TOI, 55.92xGF%

Season Highlight: Dermott has shown some grit this year, and this would be the biggest example:

Travis Dermott’s Grade: C+

Season Summary: Like Barrie, Dermott has the ability to move the puck in transition quite well, but is also prone to mistakes. In addition, Dermott has also seemed to develop this bad habit of turning away from hits and leaving himself open to hits from behind this year. Sometimes it just happens to him. Other times he causes it. He needs to avoid that, or he is going to get seriously hurt. Having said that, Muzzin/Rielly being out has opened the door for Travis Dermott to earn a lot of money this summer. This is a huge opportunity for Dermott. The Leafs’ are going to need him, big time.

# 83 Cody Ceci, Defence

Statistics: 46GP, 1G 6A 7PTS, 20:58 TOI, 50.40 Corsi%

Season Highlight: First goal as a Leaf:

Cody Ceci’s Grade: D+

Season Summary: Could be worse, but it could be a lot better too. Ceci looks like someone who is meant to play about 8-13 minutes at most in the NHL. He is good at breaking up passes, but his mobility is poor, and that creates even more issues when he’s trying to clean up his own mistakes. In addition, his thought process doesn’t seem quick enough to be on a team that plays with incredible speed. Most of Toronto’s games are fast paced because it becomes hard to slow the game down if you’re another team. If the Leafs go up the ice with speed, it usually means the other team comes back at them with speed. Ceci just isn’t meant to play at that speed. He is used way too much, but that’s not his fault. He just isn’t meant to play 21 minutes a night for the Leafs at this time. However, like the rest of the Leafs’ healthy defencemen, the injuries to Muzzin/Rielly is a big opportunity for him.

# 52 Martin Marincin, Defence

Statistics: 14GP, 0G 0A 0PTS, 14:35 TOI, 52.25 Corsi%

Season Highlight: Not really much to choose from but this was pretty cool:

Martin Marincin’s Grade: D+

Season Summary: Marincin is kind of like if Gauthier was a defenceman. He definitely knows where he’s supposed to be, but if he screws up his angles slightly, he has nowhere near the footspeed to get himself back to where he needs to be. There is very little room for error to his game. That’s less than ideal, but he is also capable of playing very solid minutes some nights. I’m not nearly as down on Marincin as many Leaf fans. I was watching this team when he first got there in 2015. There was a brief time where it looked like he could be a legitimate NHL defenceman (53.56 Corsi% through 65 games in 2015/16 through 16:46 average TOI). He’s lost foot speed since then, but he still has a decent understanding of his angles. He is better than most teams 7-8 defenceman, and it’s enough to get them by for now. 

# 38 Rasmus Sandin, Defence

Statistics: 6GP, 0G 2A 2PTS, 12:13 TOI, 57.46 Corsi%

Season Highlight: Not much to choose from at the NHL level, but he’s been great for the Marlies of the AHL and for Sweden at the WJC in Ostrava:

Rasmus Sandin’s Grade: C

Season Summary: This is an interesting one. The Leafs’ sent Sandin down because he was not going to help the team enough to justify burning a year of his ELC. He is definitely ready to play at the NHL level, but whether or not he’s capable of driving the bus at this level is a huge question mark. Sandin probably has the biggest opportunity with Rielly/Muzzin out. Sandin can use this time to ensure that Kyle Dubas never sends him to the AHL ever again. This could be the stretch where Sandin becomes a full-time NHLer, similar to Travis Dermott being recalled in 2018. He’s ready to play; but in what role?

*Not mentioned above: Kevin Gravel (short sample).

GOALTENDERS:

# 31 Frederik Andersen, Goaltender

Statistics: 36 starts, 21-8-5, 2.82 GAA, .912SV% (.837 high danger SV%)

Season Highlight: He’s made so many, but this one takes the cake so far:

Frederik Andersen’s Grade: B-

Season Summary: In a world where Leaf fans love to complain, there hasn’t been that much to complain about here. Really, Andersen plays too much. Whether it’s a lack of trust in the backup, or a comment on how much trust the coaches have for Andersen, they need to find a way to give him a couple extra nights off. Andersen gives the Leafs a chance to win pretty much every night, and that is the primary ask for your goaltender. He hasn’t been setting the world on fire lately, but most nights in which Fred isn’t good, it’s more of a comment on the team in front of him than it is Andersen. 

# 30 Michael Hutchinson, Goaltender

Statistics: 9 starts, 3-7-1, 3.83 GAA, .885SV% (.802 high danger SV%)

Season Highlight: 33 saves on January 4th vs. the Islanders for his first shutout this season:

Michael Hutchinson’s Grade: D+ 

Season Summary: Although his first 4-5 starts this season were a clear death sentence, he has been better since the coaching change. Having said that, there seems to be a clear need to shelter him a bit. That is not going to work for a Stanley Cup contending team. The reality is that the Leafs need a contribution from their backup. I would love for Michael Hutchinson to be that guy, but I am finally willing to admit I’m not sure that he is.

*Not mentioned above: Kasimir Kaskisuo (because that start was probably the most infuriating thing as a Leafs fan in the last four years).

Overall Team Grade: B-

I do think that the coaching change was the right move, and the record clearly reflects that, but this is still a team with flaws. The Leafs need to make a few small changes to make their vision work. They still need a tweak or two in order to complete their fundamental vision, such as a more mobile defenceman and a backup goaltender. However, these depth moves only matter if the core plays to their potential, and flat starts such as Sunday night in Florida cannot happen.

statistics obtained from naturalstattrick, nhl.com. videos from youtube and twitter.

Brutes Battaglia

Former writer for Puck77. Life long Toronto Maple Leafs fan. I also enjoy all things New England Patriots, Toronto Raptors, and Boston Red Sox. Diehard Third Eye Blind fan.

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