As you’d expect when you pick through the league’s myriad stat categories, the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ elite four offensive players show up in several places. It is surprising, though, that none of them show up in the top 10 in points this season, a year removed from Auston Matthews finishing sixth in points and Mitchell Marner 10th. That same year, William Nylander checked in at 33rd and John Tavares 42nd, which is impressive for any team’s top four.
This season, the Leafs’ top scorer is Nylander, whose 28 goals (11th-best in the league) and 59 points has him 14th in league scoring, a position he shares with Marner, who’s there with a whopping 41 assists. Matthews is down at 26th and Tavares is up to 30th in the league, meaning the Leafs’ Big Four are in a tight little grouping, all in the 50s in total points.
But where else do those players and other Leafs show up, statistically? Let’s not waste too much time with prelude, this stuff is just fun to pick through.
Data via SportLogiq.
Auston Matthews is first in the NHL in cycle chances
The top five includes Kyle Connor, Patrice Bergeron, Steven Stamkos and David Pastrnak. Essentially, this means that once the team establishes O-zone time at five-on-five, a situation where it is very tough to create, Matthews has been the best in the league at getting a good look.
John Tavares is third in the NHL in forecheck chances
You may not think of Tavares as a forechecking dynamo, and maybe he isn’t. But you don’t want to lose the puck to him before your defensive structure is established. This season, he’s been elite at taking the opposition’s breakout and turning that into a quick look for the Leafs the other way. The names around Tavares on that leaderboard are Tage Thompson, Zach Hyman, Jack Hughes and Nathan MacKinnon. (MacKinnon is tops when you look at forecheck chances by rate, rather than raw total.)
Two other notes about Matthews and Tavares: both players are near the top of the league in slot shots (fifth and sixth, respectively), a stat lead by Connor McDavid, Hyman and Brayden Point; and both are just inside the top 15 in rebound chances as well (a stat lead by Matthew Tkachuk, Anders Lee, Brady Tkachuk and Hyman). Frankly, they’re all over the leaderboards.
Mitch Marner is first in the NHL in slot passes
No player in the league is better at finding Grade-A scoring chances for their teammates than Marner (which may be why Tavares has so many slot shots and other chances). The three players behind Marner: McDavid, Kucherov, Panarin. Decent set-up guys, I guess.
One surprise for me: No Leafs players are inside the top 15 in average O-zone possession time this season. McDavid, Mathew Barzal, Artemi Panarin, MacKinnon and Leon Draisaitl are your top five there.
Willy Nylander shows up 14th in rush chances, a category where Matthews is just one better.
This is one McDavid leads by double digits – he has nearly 80 – over the next guy, Jack Hughes. (The trade-ready Timo Meier is interesting, sitting there in fourth.)
Now, on to more oddly specific stuff:
Alex Kerfoot is 35th in controlled exits (among forwards)
Nylander and Marner are ahead of him in this category, but it was still interesting to me. Every team has a No. 1 forward for a total of 32 players, and they tend to excel at taking the puck from their own zone to the other. Just outside that group, Kerfoot shows up as excelling at driving the play the right way.
Michael Bunting is seventh in “inner slot shots under pressure”
Matthews and Tavares are ahead of him in third and fourth, respectively, but it’s quite the telling stat that Bunting does so much of his work in this area. He’s just behind Point and Connor, and just ahead of Alex Ovechkin here.
David Kampf is 15th in the NHL in “defensive plays” (among forwards)
OK, I’ve buried the lede, let me try again:
Auston Matthews is first in the NHL in “defensive plays” (among forwards) by light years
I’ve written about this with Matthews before, but it’s become staggering. The stat is about stick checks, blocked shots and blocked passes, among other things, and Bergeron is second in the NHL with 231 of these “defensive plays.” Philip Danault is third with 226. Matthews has 301, 70 more than Bergeron.
It is his puck, thank you very much, he’ll take that back now.
But, yes. Kampf is 15th (13th as a per-20 stat) there, showing just how defensively active he is.
T.J. Brodie is seventh in the NHL in D-zone denial percentage
Brodie is as hard to beat one-on-one as just about anyone in the NHL, with good gaps and a great stick and savvy positioning.
A number of Justin Holl stats are less thrilling, many of which I’ve written about before. The man is tops on the Leafs and 17th in the NHL in “total successful passes,” which means he plays a ton and gets the play going the right way by saying “here you take it” better than anyone else.
John Tavares is first in the NHL in successful loose puck recoveries (among forwards)
Probably related to that forechecking stat, no?
This means when there’s a 50/50 battle for a puck, Tavares has earned more for the Leafs than any player in the league has for their team. Matthews is third (and has a slightly higher success rate than Tavares when he gets in those battles), while third on the Leafs sits Kampf, 25th overall. But, yeah, Tavares being first is a crazy stat, he’s just beating out names such as Bergeron and Anze Kopitar when it comes to total recoveries and success rate.
(I am once again glossing over an Auston Matthews stat, who wins a higher rate of his battles than everyone not named Sean Monahan.)
Michael Bunting is there for you … in the O-zone
A number of stats show that Bunting is an active player … in the O-zone. The biggest highlight of that is when it comes to “activity,” as in a combination of all things they track and measure, he is 15th in terms of the percentage of his activity that happens in the O-zone. Nylander is fifth, while Pierre Engvall is 25th. These guys are all over the puck and busy in the O-zone, and maybe tend to relax a bit when the play is elsewhere.
Bunting shows up in a few OZ stats, including total time spent in the O-zone when his team has the puck, where he’s 32nd, just ahead of Marner and Nylander.
Ilya Samsonov is first in the NHL in inner slot shot save percentage, third in slot save percentage
It remains to be seen if Samsonov can really be the guy for the Leafs. But in previous postseasons, the odd glaring gaffe has hurt them. If he can steal a few of those back for the Leafs, it would go a long way to greater success.
I realize there’s not much on the defence here, because frankly, the Leafs don’t have elite defenders. (Um, Rasmus Sandin is 33rd in terms of percentage of his ice time that’s spent in the O-zone? Is that interesting?) That’s not to say they’re bad, but they just don’t headline many categories, particularly as Morgan Rielly has had an off season.
Needless to say, the Leafs have enough players who do enough things at an elite level that they can hang with anyone in the league. And for their fans, so many of the stats show how successful they are at doing the things that get and keep the puck for the team, meaning they’re awfully fun to watch.