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Toronto Maple Leafs season snapshot awards

Matthews named MVP, Muzzin top defenseman, Nylander comeback player

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

With the NHL pausing the 2019-20 regular season on March 12 due to the concerns surrounding the coronavirus, NHL.com is taking stock of each of the League's 31 teams.

Today, the award-worthy candidates for the Toronto Maple Leafs at the pause:

 

It has been a tale of two seasons for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The first was with Mike Babcock, who was fired as coach Nov. 20 after the Maple Leafs started the season 9-10-4. He was replaced by Sheldon Keefe, who had been coaching the Maple Leafs' American Hockey League affiliate, and the Maple Leafs are 27-15-5 with him as coach.

A number of Maple Leafs players have turned in strong individual efforts with Toronto attempting to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a fourth consecutive season.

To showcase the top performances this season, here are the top players in various categories:

 

MVP

Auston Matthews has scored an NHL career-high 47 goals this season, which ranks him third in the NHL, one behind Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak and Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin. The 22-year-old center could become the fourth Maple Leafs player to score at least 50 goals in one season with Toronto, joining Rick Vaive (1981-82, 1982-83, 1983-84), Gary Leeman (1989-90) and Dave Andreychuk (1993-94). In the process, Matthews has shown he is far more than a power-play specialist; he is tied with Ovechkin for the most even-strength goals in the League (35). On a talented roster of skilled players like John Tavares, Mitchell Marner and William Nylander, Matthews has proven to be the catalyst.

Video: TBL@TOR: Marner sets up Matthews' power-play blast

 

Rookie

Ilya Mikheyev has 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) in 39 games, and it's intriguing to think about what kind of numbers he would have if he didn't sustain a lacerated wrist when he was cut by a skate blade against the New Jersey Devils on Dec. 27. The 25-year-old left wing was nearing a return to practice when the NHL paused its season March 12. Mikheyev, who has a unique mixture of size (6-foot-3, 195 pounds) and speed, was playing in a top-six role at time he was injured.

 

Defenseman

Jake Muzzin's physical style brings something the Maple Leafs don't have much of. He had 23 points (six goals, 17 assists) in 53 games before fracturing his right hand against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Feb. 25.  When the Maple Leafs signed Muzzin to a four-year contract Feb. 24, general manager Kyle Dubas lauded the veteran defenseman for his leadership on the ice as well as off. Since being traded to Toronto by the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 28, 2019, Muzzin has become the unofficial organizer of team gatherings on the road.

Video: TOR@OTT: Muzzin wires home wrist shot through traffic

 

Defensive forward

Zach Hyman spent much of the season on a line with Matthews and has seen several opposing coaches line up their top offensive units against them. It's often been a matchup of fire against fire and the Maple Leafs have more than held their own in those situations, thanks in part to Hyman. His grind-it-out style has helped him to a plus-13 rating, which is third on the Maple Leafs behind Matthews (plus-19) and defenseman Travis Dermott (plus-14). Hyman also has scored 21 goals, tying his NHL career high set last season.

 

Comeback player

Nylander is second on the Maple Leafs with 31 goals and is fourth with 59 points in 69. He's averaging 0.87 points per game, up from 0.50 last season, when he had 27 points (seven goals, 20 assists) in 54 games after missing the first two months of the season as a restricted free agent. He's shown a stronger desire to take pucks to the net this season, and that's paid off on the scoresheet.

Video: TBL@TOR: Nylander scores PPG in 1st period

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