I have been watching the Toronto Maple Leafs for many years, but this year there is a different feeling. For the first time since I have been watching, at least that I can recollect, the Leafs have a cushion of over 10 points on a playoff spot.
As a fan who has watched this franchise for a long time, I’m used to seasons like 2007, when their playoff hopes came down to the last game of the season, or even last season, when the Leafs finally clinched a playoff spot in the second last game of the season. Now, in writing this, with weeks left on the NHL regular season schedule, I realize no team has yet clinched a playoff spot and a disaster could still take the Leafs out of playoff contention, but it is remarkable to see how far the team has come in almost two seasons.
Looking back on my very first column in The Standard, I was reminded of the feeling of despair I felt when the Leafs lost the opportunity to draft Connor McDavid in 2015. But, just a season later, the Leafs won the right to choose Auston Matthews first overall, and the first round pick has since taken Toronto by storm. Matthews scored 40 goals in his first year with the club, and he currently has 28 goals and 50 points this season.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention former first round picks Mitch Marner and William Nylander are currently part of the top three Leaf scorers this season.
For a team who years ago didn’t have any of their own drafted and developed talent on the roster, the Leafs have drafted and developed a list of mainstays on their NHL roster, including Matthews, Marner, Nylander, Nazem Kadri, Morgan Rielly, Travis Dermott and Connor Brown.
Looking at the Toronto Marlies stats, there is 'reason to be optimistic' about the future of the Leafs as well. As of press time, Andreas Johnsson leads the Marlies in scoring with 52 points, which includes 24 goals in 52 games. To give you an idea of how he has grown from one season to the next, last year he banked 47 points in 75 games.
I am also excited about the future of Justin Holl, having had a glimpse of his potential in the two NHL games he skated in. He scored a goal in each of those games.
Timothy Liljegren, the Leafs first round pick from the 2017 draft, is another player to watch, as he currently has 12 points in 30 games, in his first season in the AHL. I think he could potentially make the Leafs next season.
Having watched some bad Leafs teams in the past, pessimistic about the team’s future during that time, it is somewhat new to see my favourite team winning, drafting well, and sitting in the top 10 in the league standings.
I’m excited about the rest of this season and the future of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
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Is a reporter for The Standard Newspaper, so if you see him, feel free to say hello. You can follow Dan on Twitter at @dancearnsy