Mitch Marner, 18, has a video-game-esque 21 points in 13 games for the London Knights this season. William Nylander, 19, is averaging a point a game against grown men in the American Hockey League.
Yet the Toronto Maple Leafs, who mustered just a single victory in October and operate the least effective offence in the Eastern Conference, aren’t bringing up their talented youth.
Even as a crop of 2014 and 2015 first-rounders — Dylan Larkin, Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Nikolaj Ehlers — prove nightly that, yes, teenagers can contribute at the NHL level, the rebuilding Leafs resist the allure of a youthful injection of offence, anemic two-goals-a-game average be damned.
“Temptations are everything in life,” admitted general manager Lou Lamoriello, during an appearance with Gord Stellick and Todd Hlushko on Sportsnet 590 The Fan.
“You have to be careful: Is this the right thing for the big picture?”
LISTEN: Lou Lamoriello discusses Maple Leafs future, Devils greats
So, if scoring goals and winning a few NHL games isn’t the right thing, what is?
The Maple Leafs’ plan, Lamoriello explained, places no value on instant, temporary success. Rather, the goal is to build a foundation for both team and individual achievement that is sustainable for years.
Though Lamoriello said internal discussions on prospects are held daily between him, president Brendan Shanahan, assistant general manager Kyle Dubas, director of player personnel Mark Hunter, assistant to the GM Brendan Pridham, and coach Mike Babcock, the organization must be certain talents like Nylander and Marner enter a dressing room that won’t cause them to regress.
Despite being hired into a previously established front office by Shanahan, a former employee of his own, Lamoriello has quickly realized that Shanahan’s group is comprised of men he would’ve hired himself.
“Mark Hunter is just a superstar in what he does and just a pleasure to be around as far as his honesty,” Lamoriello said. Then he heaped another spoonful of praise on the “extremely intelligent” Dubas.
As for the players, the first step is to discover which ones on the current big-club roster want to be part of the reformed Maple Leafs culture. Who is willing to “pay the price” to compete for a Stanley Cup?
Once management discovers who’s buying in, decisions on individual players will be made.
“Then the young prospect that you have, you feel comfortable about bringing them into an environment that’s going to allow them to progress and move and not be drawn in different directions,” Lamoriello explained.
“Once you get that room straightened out and you get that work ethic, you get that system orientated, you get that logo on the front of the jersey is what matters, not the name [on the back], then we’ll know more about where we’re going.”