Since the beginning of time, ok since the most recent of all NHL Entry Drafts, the discussion has been ongoing to which Maple Leafs prospect is better. I am begging fellow Leafs fans to give up that mentality and accept, for just a few YEARS, on how OUTSTANDING it is to have all three of them playing for our beloved Blue and White.
It all started way back in history, the 8th overall pick in the 2014 Draft, with the Maple Leafs selecting William Nylander. While it was apparent that some factions of Leafs Nation wanted a different direction, there was no doubt that this young Swede (yes, I know about Calgary) had talent exuding from each pore of his body. Having watched young William at the Rookie Tourney, and with the Toronto Marlies, it was easy to see how fortunate we were to Draft this kid with the 8th overall pick. Vision off the charts, and the ability to know where a puck is going to be stood out very early on. For a long time nobody talked about his shooting ability. His wrist shot is heavy and accurate. His skating is purposeful and controlled, there are times he looks to be coasting but that is the incredible awareness to know exactly where the puck is about to be. Now, with many young players there is some work to be done. (Did you think this was going to be all sunshine and rainbows?)
There are times that Nylander appears to be passive in his puck pursuit, and this drives his Coaches mental. Why? Simply put because that Coach knows just how talented young William actually is. Nylander was called out during the AHL playoffs by Head Coach Sheldon Keefe for exactly what I just mentioned. Is it the end of the world? Hell no it isn’t. It something he needs to work on to become an elite member of the NHL and to stay there for many years to come.
So the Leafs had some young talent, but it needed to continue along the path and it didn’t take long as they selected the very talented Mitch Marner with the 4th overall pick in 2015. The resume and skills for Marner were obvious as he was Drafted. Sure they could have gone with Defense but skill is something you can never overlook. In his plus 1 season after the Draft, Marner put on a show in the OHL that not many will ever come close to replicating. Number 93 won every award imaginable and with his fellow London Knights they went on to dominate the playoffs and secure a Memorial Championship.
Mitch skates like the wind, and in doing so never appears to get tired. The fact he has reduced his shift length in the NHL is kind of amusing because I know he could stay out another 15-20 seconds and still might not break a sweat, so his endurance is top shelf. While he might not have the heaviest of shot, he can pick corners and gets the puck off fast. It is quite evident that the Leafs (and Coach Babcock) are already running PP1 thru Mitch. His vision, his passing and ability to thread the needle were incredible to watch in the OHL, the fact he is doing similar in the NHL is mind boggling.
Mitch will need to focus a bit more on staying in position in the defensive zone. There are times where he will drift in an attempt to help out line mates but it leaves his wing unprotected. Secondly, I believe it would be great if Mitch would shoot more. There is no player that loves assisting on a goal that Mitch but opposition teams will start to sit on the pass and worry less about the shot. This is when Marner must strike. No big issues, all part of the learning curve in the NHL.
Then came Auston Matthews. The First Overall pick that the Leafs and its fans all coveted. It had finally happened, the pain the fans had endured for so long culminated in receiving the large framed talented centre we have desperately been missing since the days of Mats Sundin.
The young man from Arizona can do it all. He shoots the puck well, he passes the biscuit as efficiently as most and when he skates he seems to float above the ice, which for a kid who is pushing 220 pounds continues to be jaw dropping.
Simply put in just over 20 NHL hockey games it is easy to see why he was Drafted #1. Did I mention that he scored 4 goals in his first game on NHL ice? How ridiculous is that?
The only area that Matthews might need to work on, may be selfishness. Similar to Marner in this regard they love to see a teammate score a goal off a pass they just made. With a heavy and accurate shot, Matthews has the ability to change the game all on his own. The Maple Leafs Coaching staff must remind him that it is ok to put the team on his shoulders and carry it. If all of that effort doesn’t happen to work on that particular evening, others will pick up the slack, but I would love to see him WANT to be the guy who dictates how game will be won.
Ok you know all of that. We do not to re-live the history of this franchise again. In fact, we do that so often in this marketplace with pre-game ceremonies that it is finally time to look forward to the future.
I present to you a 19 year old Centre of elite two way skill, one that can play at both ends of the ice and never cheat you on a shift. A 20 year old Winger/Centre (I believe he can play either in the NHL) with a solid ability to pass the puck, heavy wrist shot and knack for skating the puck to establish zone entry. And if that is already great enough, there is a slick skating kid that has the ability to freeze NHL level defenders (and still only being 19) make eye popping passes, pick corners and skate like the wind. These are the gifts that the Maple Leafs organization has given to the long suffering fans this season.
These three kids (add in Morgan Rielly because he is still only 22 years of age) are the types you attempt to add for skill when playing video games or in fantasy leagues and in the most ridiculous concept to believe, our Leafs management team has done it all in real life, and all through the Draft. Are there areas where they could be better? Of course. They are kids and this is the freakin’ NHL, each and every player strives to improve their skills or they are quickly forgotten or another footnote in history.
So please Leafs fans there is little need to continuing to argue about who is better, or who has more skill or who has more upside because we have them ALL. There are 29 other teams (soon to be 30) around the NHL who are envious of the talent we already have, and as a Leafs fan, you should also be beyond excited.