Like a lot of Leaf followers, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect coming into the 2016-’17 NHL season. We knew they would play a lot of “kids”. We doubted (at least many of us) that they could realistically be a playoff contender—much less an actual playoff team. But we figured they may be fun to watch and they certainly have been.
With only 8 games remaining in their schedule, here are some things I honestly did not expect to see this season:
- Auston Matthews leading the team in scoring. Maybe van Riemsdyk, perhaps Kadri. But a 19 year-old?
- Zach Hyman being on the roster and playing 74 games—and not only playing tenacious defense, but earning close to 30 points.
- Morgan Rielly being a minus 19 so far on the season (though he’s still a key guy for us, obviously).
- Mitch Marner being a go-to player already. Wow.
- That we could have a legitimate debate about who the best all-around Leaf rookie is—and that there would be so many names in the discussion.
- That more than one Maple Leaf could/should receive serious consideration for the Calder Trophy.
- I was expecting that Andersen would be a good goaltender—we all saw that he was a capable NHL goalie before this season. But that, after a middlish start to the current season, I wasn't expecting that he would settle in and be mostly outstanding in one of hockey’s toughest markets, on a team that wasn't supposed to be very good yet. That's been impressive.
- I wasn’t sure if Kadri would step forward or step back this year. For the most part he has brought his “A” game most nights. He has always been a player with unquestioned talent, but maybe the whole package was not always in evidence. It is more often now, it seems.
- That Jake Gardiner would be a plus 25 on the season. I have often been concerned about Gardiner’s play in his own zone through his years in Toronto, but used to suggest here that Gardiner could score 20 goals in a season because of his offensive skills. While that hasn’t happened, he has certainly brought his game to a higher level overall, it seems.
- That Connor Brown would be this important to the team this soon.
- That Leo Komarov would still be here—and still be an edgy catalyst that a team like the Leafs need.
- That Tyler Bozak would survive all the previous purges and remain a steady contributor on a playoff-bound team.
- That we haven’t trade away van Riemsdyk, who I think remains an important guy for the Leafs. (I’d rather see him here than elsewhere, though we will need to bring in some help on the blueline next year, I suspect.)
- That Polak, a heart and soul guy I really like (on this note, many of you no doubt remember guys like Danny Markov and DmitryYushkevich), is still a fit for Babcock’s roster.
This is all by way of saying…in this instance, things I am surprised to see is a very good thing. I did not expect to be talking this late in the season about the Leafs having a shot at the playoffs when training camp kicked off way back in in September.
To me, despite the loss to the Sabres (and here’s hoping Andersen will be OK) on Saturday night, it just feels as though the Leafs can play with anyone now just about every night.
I wasn't expecting that, either.
What has surprised you about the Leafs this season?