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Maple Leafs Boast One of the Best Rookie Trios Ever

Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander are three of the top four rookie point leaders this season. No team has ever had a threesome finish a season that high in the rookie scoring race.
Photo by Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Maple Leafs are boasting a historic rookie class and, unlike its futile record of drafting and development over the past 30 years would suggest, the team is on the good side of history this time.

Mitch Marner was named the NHL's rookie of the month for January, becoming the third Maple Leafs freshman to take home the honour this season. William Nylander was awarded the NHL's top rookie for October after putting up 11 points in nine games, while Auston Matthews took the award in December after tallying 12 points in as many games.


For the first time in league history, a single team has had three different recipients win the award in the same season, and it's barely halfway over. The club is also in position to potentially claim (at least) three of the top four rookie point-scorers at season's end, something that has never been done. Both feats point to the possibility that there's never been three NHL rookies this good on the same team in a single season—ever.

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Toronto is challenging for a playoff spot in the tight Eastern Conference after finishing dead last in the NHL last season, and the team's last three first-round picks (Matthews, No. 1 overall, 2016; Marner, No. 4, 2015; and Nylander, No. 8, 2014) are the main reasons behind the team's impressive turnaround. Matthews sits tied with Jets sniper Patrik Laine for the rookie lead with 23 goals, while Marner is even with Laine for the points lead with 41. Nylander, meanwhile, sits tied in fourth spot with three other rooks, including sleeper Calder Trophy candidates Matthew Tkachuk and Zach Werenski.

Marner has been every bit as exciting as Matthews this season. Photo by Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

It's anything but a down-year for NHL rookies, and the elite calibre of this year's class suggests that this is anything but a fluke, especially for Matthews and Marner. Emerging stars like Laine, Tkachuk, Werenski as well as Carolina Hurricanes sniper Sebastian Aho and 2016 Stanley Cup champion goaltender Matt Murray, round off a group of eight or so first-year players who can legitimately compete for the Calder Trophy in a season potentially boasting the most impactful group of NHL freshmen that there's ever been.


Since the 1986-87 season, teammates have only finished first and second in rookie scoring once, when Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk finished with 67 and 51 points, respectively, during the 2001-02 campaign. Only three times total in the last 30 years have two teammates finished in the top three in rookie scoring, when Chicago's Patrick Kane (72) and Jonathan Toews (54) finished first and third in 2007-08, and Colorado's Milan Hejduk (48) and Chris Drury (44) finished in the top three in 1998-99.

Never in the post-expansion NHL have three teammates finished 1,2,3 or even with three of the top four spots in rookie scoring, but the trio of Matthews, Marner and Nylander look poised to make history this season. The last season in which there was a trio from the same team to finish in the top ten in rookie scoring was in 1992-93, when Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne put up an insane 132 points— including an NHL rookie record 76 goals—while Alexei Zhamnov and Keith Tkachuk registered 72 and 51 points, respectively.

While none of the Leafs rooks will come close to Selanne—it was a much different era back then, when players could actually score on goalies—and maybe not even Zhamnov, it doesn't take anything away from how impressive they've been.

A perennial All-Star in the making. Photo by John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Matthews, particularly, has somehow exceeded the CN Tower-sized expectations placed upon him after being selected first overall last June, as he's quickly become a bonafide superstar in the making, if not already. The 19-year-old, who made the All-Star team in his first season, is tied for the NHL rookie lead in goals and sits tied for sixth overall with 23—one behind future Hall of Famer Alex Ovechkin and one ahead of superstar Evgeni Malkin. Matthews also leads all Maple Leafs forwards in ice time per game (17:44) and the team with 168 shots on goal. Listed at 6'3" and 215 pounds, the Glendale, Arizona, native has been physically NHL ready for quite some time and possesses a wrist shot that is already one of the most lethal in the entire league.


Marner, meanwhile, has been the elite playmaker the Maple Leafs were hoping he'd turn into, he's just doing it way earlier than expected. Possessing a filthy set of hands, an elite level of vision and an obvious nose for the net, the Markham, Ontario, native leads all rookies with 29 assists while averaging over 17 minutes of ice time on a roster that he was questionable to crack as training camp began in September. Picturing Marner still toiling in junior rather than lighting the lamp in the NHL this season seems like an absurd thought, especially after already witnessing him deliver superstar-level goals like this:

The 20-year-old Nylander is the eldest of the three, and saw some time with the big club at the end of last year after a big season with the Maple Leafs' AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies. The advanced metrics are in the young Swede's corner—in his first full NHL season Nylander boasts a solid 52.47 Corsi, best among Maple Leafs forwards, while ranking No. 1 on the team with a 53.11 Fenwick.

As these three kids continue to deliver, it appears the timeframe for the Leafs' self-proclaimed rebuild has been greatly accelerated, something even the most optimistic members of Leaf-land couldn't see coming.