We’re more than halfway through the season, and with that means we can start to hand out some report cards for the Leafs players based on their performance so far. Their grades will be waited by a combination of their performance, but also their expectations going into the season. The evaluations will be based on a combination of my own opinion as well as the numbers they’ve put up, so there’s a very good chance that you aren’t going to agree with every grade.
We have a lot to get through, so let’s get started.
Auston Matthews: A
Matthews had the expectations of the best player on our team, and he has performed as such so far this season, especially before his injury. He had a massive lead in goals before his injury allowed McDavid to catch up, and is also still an incredible playmaker. His underlying numbers are spectacular as well, with a 54.16% CF% and a 59.15% xGF% this season, and a 6.9 GAR (nice) this season. The only thing holding him back from getting an A+ is that his defensive game has taken a slight step back from last season, but that hasn’t hindered his play so far this season.
John Tavares: B+
He’s slightly underperformed by his own standards, but that’s also expected considering his age. He also had some rough luck to start the season and is only just starting to see a bounce back from that, which is partly why he hasn’t performed like most people may have expected. He’s still one of the best centers in the league, and he’s going to be a big part of this team should they go on a deep playoff run.
Mitch Marner: A
Marner has basically been glued to Matthews all season, so it should be no surprise that he gets the same grade as Matthews. One thing that almost tempted me to give him an A+ was that Marner has really established himself as a good player in his own right this season, not just a byproduct of Matthews and Tavares. He’s transformed himself into the next Patrick Kane, if Patrick Kane also knew how to defend. His contract may have seemed ugly at first, but he’s worth every penny now.
William Nylander: A-
Despite the usual criticism from the media, Nylander has actually had a really good season as per usual. He’s resumed his goal scoring ways from last season, has actually emerged as the player driving that Tavares-Nylander duo this season, and has also had stretches where he’ll be the team’s best player for several games. He’s had low points, which is why he gets the minus, but he’s always responded with great games.
Jake Muzzin: A+
Muzzin gets the first A+ because he comes exactly as advertised. He’s performed extremely well in those tough minutes, and unlike the stereotypical defensive defenseman, he can move the puck and generate offense. He’s even on pace for 41 points in a full 82 game season, which I’m sure surprised you just as much as it did me. He’s the most important player on that blueline on a team that has seen it’s defensive play improve significantly compared to past seasons.
Morgan Rielly: A-
Rielly was definitely on my bad side to start the season, but he’s actually slowly improved throughout the course of the season. Playing with TJ Brodie has been a significant help to his defensive play, and he’s still prone to those boneheaded mistakes, but he’s consistently been driving play this season, is the best defenseman at getting the puck up the ice, and has also been really important in quarterbacking our power play. He frustrates me sometimes, but he’s had a great year and should probably get more recognition for it.
Frederik Andersen: C-
Andersen’s play has been discussed to an extreme by most Leafs fans, and let’s be blunt: he has been disappointing this season. I could confidently say that he has cost the Leafs more games than he’s won them, and that’s not what you want from your starter on a team poised for a deep run. I think his struggles have been magnified by a horrendous save percentage on the penalty kill (he’s otherwise just okay at even strength), but you expect more from him. Hopefully Jack Campbell being healthy means they can split the starts and he can heal up and not be fatigued, because it’s clearly taking a toll on him at this age.
TJ Brodie: A
Without a doubt, Brodie has been the most important addition that Kyle Dubas made this offseason. Brodie has not only rounded out the Leafs top four defense to give them the best blueline they’ve had in a long time, but he’s also been the best partner Rielly has played with and has been a significant stabilizer for him. Fans of other teams have given the Leafs flak for swapping Tyson Barrie for him with how many points he’s gotten, but the points don’t matter as much on the blueline. Brodie has been a rock on that top pair and will continue to be important for the team.
Alex Kerfoot: C
Kerfoot will always have that weight on his shoulders of being Nazem Kadri’s replacement, but at the very least, he’s been a solid secondary option. His scoring has been less than what was expected since coming over, but he’s made up for it with his defensive play, so at the very least, he doesn’t cost the team any games.
Zach Hyman: A
How does this man keep getting better every year? His offensive ability and production are miles better than when he had no hands as a rookie, and he continues to be a dominant play driver, even showing that he can do it when he drives his own line this year. I have a feeling this is going to turn into an ugly contract, but damn it if I’m not going to enjoy it this year.
Justin Holl: B
Like his partner, Holl has come exactly as advertised. A solid top four defenseman who can play well in the tough minutes if it’s with Muzzin. He’s had his highs and his lows, but he’s been solid overall, and has been one of the Leafs best achievements for development.
Jack Campbell: B+
When Campbell has played, he’s been excellent in net, and a calming influence as opposed to Andersen’s chaotic results this season. The problem is that he also hasn’t played much. Just four games in the net make it really hard to get a grasp of his play this season, or to better put it, be able to figure out if it’s legit. I’m not hurting his grade because of injuries, but I’m going to say that he probably doesn’t maintain a .965 save percentage as a starter either.
Ilya Mikheyev: D
It’s safe to say that we may have bought the hype on Mikheyev a little too quickly into his NHL career. He’s had his fair share of chances (he’s the best at it outside of the big four and Hyman), but he can’t finish on them to save his life, and he’s the worst Leafs forward as far as xGF% and GAR come. He’s only the fifth worst at CF%, but 48.51%, that’s not ideal either. The only thing saving him from failing is his individual scoring chance creation, otherwise he’s been a disappointment this season.
Wayne Simmonds: B+
I keep seeing stuff about how “Chart Twitter will be mad when Simmonds comes back”, and I don’t think people realize that Simmonds underlying numbers have been pretty good this season. Sure, it probably helps that he’s playing on a good team, but he hasn’t been dragging the team at the very least, and he even has five goals in 14 games. All that is easily worth it for the fairly obvious impact he has on the team from a morale standpoint.
HYPE LFG ZACH! pic.twitter.com/tOmJSmWV0k
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) March 21, 2021
Pierre Engvall: C
About as average as they come on this team. Doesn’t really contribute to the team, doesn’t hurt it either. He was surprisingly decent in a third line role with Hyman and Mikheyev, and six points is also solid contributions from a bottom six forward. Zero complaints, but not a ton of praise for him either.
Zach Bogosian: C
The Pierre Engvall of defensemen on this team. Doesn’t move the needle, but hasn’t really cost the team either. A perfect fit on that third pair, but anytime he moves up in the lineup, he clearly struggles. I can definitely say that I’m quite happy with him on the blueline even if I’d like to see Rasmus Sandin or Timothy Liljegren get more of a shot as well.
Alexander Barabanov: C
I don’t think I could name a single time where I thought that Barabanov was essential to the team, but he’s an okay depth piece. His underlying numbers are pretty solid, and he also looked surprisingly decent in that brief stint in the top six. I’d like to see more of him before I really make up my mind, but I definitely have no complaints or compliments.
Travis Dermott: B-
I just feel bad for Dermott at this point. He deserves a bigger role, but that’s only going to come with injury because he’s clearly the team’s fifth best defenseman. He was fine when he played in the top four when Muzzin got hurt, but while he’s had his bad games, he hasn’t really struggled, but he also hasn’t been so good to really give him that shot. It wouldn’t surprise me if he ends up being the piece that the Leafs lose in the expansion draft, but I really hope he does get a shot, either here or with another team.
Michael Hutchinson: C
We hoped we would never have to see him again, and yet there was a brief stint where he was the Leafs starter. And he played fine during that stretch. He had his bad games, and he had his good games, that’s about all you can ask for from Hutchinson in a season where he was supposed to be the fourth goalie on the depth chart.
Travis Boyd: C
Inflated shooting totals have made Boyd seem better than he actually is, but he’s been another surprise as far as depth pieces go. It’ll suck if the Leafs lose him to waivers today, but I’m not going to lose sleep if they do either.
Jason Spezza: A
Spezza is sixth among Leafs forwards in scoring while playing in fourth line minutes, and he’s been driving play really well as well. I wasn’t expecting Spezza to get better after how good of a depth piece he was last season, but he has been an important reason why the bottom six has been more of a threat for the Leafs than it should have.
Joe Thornton: A
Another surprisingly effective old man depth piece, Thornton has not looked out of place when he’s been on the top line with Matthews and Marner, and has actually been one of the Leafs best forwards defensively this season. 12 points in 20 games is also really good for a 40 year old, but even with his legacy before him, Thornton has exceeded my expectations well beyond what I thought he was going to do this season.