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The Changing Dynamics of the Toronto Maple Leafs Forwards

Over the past eight seasons, the Toronto Maple Leafs forwards have changed. What has happened and what’s going to happen?

The Toronto Maple Leafs have evolved significantly since winning the Draft Lottery in 2016 and selecting Auston Matthews as the first overall pick. Starting the 2016-17 season, the team built its core around three young stars: Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander. At that time, all three players were yet to celebrate their 20th birthdays, necessitating a strategy to balance the lineup with experienced veterans who could mentor the fledgling core.

Related: Why Easton Cowan Is Perfect for Berube’s Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs Youngsters Benefitted from Solid Veterans

Over the next five seasons, the Maple Leafs added seasoned players like Patrick Marleau (38), Joe Thornton (41), Jason Spezza (36), Nick Foligno (33), and Wayne Simmonds (33) to provide guidance and stability. This approach aimed to nurture the young trio through the early stages of their NHL careers.

Matthew Knies Auston Matthews Maple Leafs

Fast-forward to the present. Matthews and Marner are now 26 years old, Nylander is 27, and each has accrued eight full seasons and over 600 games of NHL experience. This includes both regular season and playoffs. With this wealth of experience, the Maple Leafs’ strategy has shifted towards integrating younger, more dynamic support players.

Domi and Bertuzzi Added to the Team’s Change in Tactics

In the past season, the team brought in 28-year-olds Max Domi and Tyler Bertuzzi, demonstrating a preference for players in their prime rather than older veterans. Additionally, the Maple Leafs have promoted promising prospects from within their organization, such as Matthew Knies (21), Nick Robertson (22), Pontus Holmberg (24), and Bobby McMann (27).

Looking ahead to the upcoming season, there is potential for even younger talent to join the roster. Notably, Easton Cowan, the 19-year-old recipient of the 2024 OHL Player of the Year Award and the Leafs’ first-round pick in the 2024 NHL Entry Draft, and Fraser Minton, who will soon turn 20 and was selected in the second round of the 2023 draft, could make the team out of training camp.

If these young players make the roster, the established core forwards—Matthews, Marner, and Nylander—will take on the mentoring role that was once provided to them. This shift signifies a new chapter for the Maple Leafs, where the experienced core forwards are now poised to guide the next generation of talent, continuing the cycle of development and leadership within the team.

Related: Perhaps It’s Time for Nick Robertson to Leave the Maple Leafs



  1. afp1961

    May 27, 2024 at 2:08 pm

    Stan – lets hope that the fab five, or what is left of it, will be able to take on the elder statesmen role and responsibility. Im not so sure (yet). I see JT and Matthews not having any issues but Wilie and Mitch have not ever shown me that leadership quality. Lets hope it could change.

    As for the youngsters, I think the leafs will have no choice but to play more of these type players. With 20M or so of cap space, Treliving will be hardpressed to get a top goalie (~6M), top RHD (~7.5M), RHD2 (~4.5M), and sign some of his UFAs like Domi, maybe Bert and RFAs like Lily, Dewar, etc…..

    Lets hope McMann, and Knies can improve from their solid performances this past term and make the extra leap to help this team over the hump.

    • Stan Smith

      May 28, 2024 at 9:38 am

      This next season will definitely be tight cap-wise. If Marner stays his next deal will be kind of known. It will fall in between Matthews and Nylander’s present deals. The only way keeping Tavares beyond next season is if he is willing to take close to a 50% pay cut. With the cap projected to increase to $92M in 2025 it gives the Leafs more cap space to balance the roster moving forward.

  2. gfinale

    May 27, 2024 at 3:21 pm

    YIKES! Matthews, Marner, Nylander and Rielly can’t mentor themselves and are in no way good mentors for Cowen and Minten! The only things the top 3 can teach is how to milk their contracts for every last dollar to the detriment of their team, city and fans, demanding NMC’s so it’s impossible to get rid of them and not performing in the playoffs for years.

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