Even with one of the youngest rosters in the NHL, the Maple Leafs are finding ways to win key games in their late drive for the playoffs.
In the second week of March, the Leafs found themselves in a key three-game stretch against the Red Wings, Flyers and Hurricanes — and they won them all. The next week, after stinking up the joint in a 7-2 loss in Florida, the Leafs got themselves off the hook with a 5-0 statement win over the Lightning. This week started with a huge win against Boston, a team with which they are battling for a better seeding in the division. And Wednesday in Columbus they decisively triumphed over a 100-point team who they could still end up playing in Round 1 of the playoffs.
Leading the way, of course, are the youngest players. And specifically on the team stats sheet, Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner and William Nylander are making up one of the best rookie trios in team history. In fact, by the end of the regular season, it’s possible one of them leads the team in goals (Matthews), another in points (Marner) and the third in power play points (Nylander).
Speaking of Nylander, Wednesday’s game against Columbus was especially significant for him. With a goal and an assist, he hit a couple milestones and unlocked a contract bonus.
On Auston Matthews’ first period goal — which he celebrated before even scoring — Nylander picked up an assist, to tie a Leafs rookie record with a nine-game point streak. A lot of those records seem to be falling this season.
But Nylander’s second period goal was money…literally.
Going up against Columbus backup Joonas Korpisalo, Nylander sniped a beautiful wrist shot that gave him 20 goals for the season. The goal hit another Leafs benchmark, as Nylander and Matthews (33 goals) became the first pair of Leafs rookies to score 20 in a season since Wendel Clark and Steve Thomas in 1985-86, according to Sportsnet Stats. That season, Clark scored 34 and Thomas 20 on the nose.
Nylander also earned some coin with his 20th goal — a little bit more than the two bucks your Dad may have given you for scoring in minor hockey.
It was the first performance bonus Nylander hit this season, earning him $212,500. As Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston noted in his great breakdown of all the Leafs’ rookie performance bonuses, Nylander’s bonuses could be coming fast and furious late in the season.
Now with 34 assists on the season, Nylander is one helper shy of earning another $212,500. His two-point night against the Jackets also brought his season total to 54, just six shy of another $212,500 bonus for a 60-point season. If he hits those bonuses, Nylander would max out on his Schedule A bonuses (read Johnston’s post linked above for more detail) by achieving just one more of the following: average .73 points per game, finish top three in plus-minus among team forwards, finish top six in ice time among team forwards, or make the NHL end-of-season all-rookie team.
There’s a chance he could hit all of them, although he’ll get paid for a maximum of four.