The Toronto Maple Leafs’ core four of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and John Tavares include four talented forwards who showcase their talent together in the team’s top two lines. They are also fixtures on the Maple Leafs’ special teams.
Management has made a heavy financial investment in this quartet of stars. While it’s unusual around the NHL, Matthews, Marner, Tavares, and Nylander together take up just under one-half (about 49 percent) of the team’s salary cap.
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The logic of building a team around such top-tier talent has been to capitalize on their offensive prowess to create a team that can challenge for the Stanley Cup each season. The logic – although as yet unrealized – is that this core plus the supporting cast will lead the Maple Leafs to a long-awaited championship.
Because these four players represent the cornerstone of the team’s success, their offensive production is critical. In this post, I want to take a look at how the team’s Core Four is producing six games into the regular season.
The Players Who Make Up the Maple Leafs Core Four
Here are some short bios on the team’s Core Four players. The players include:
Auston Matthews is a highly skilled center who was the first overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. He’s known for his goal-scoring ability and is often regarded as one of the best young players in the league. He holds the Maple Leafs’ franchise record after scoring 60 goals during the 2021-22 regular season.
Mitch Marner is a dynamic and creative forward. Another first-round pick by the Maple Leafs, he was selected fourth overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. He’s known for his playmaking skills and has been a key offensive producer for the team. He’s also one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL.
William Nylander is a talented winger. Also a first-round pick, he was chosen eighth overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. He’s known for his scoring ability and skill with the puck. Every season, it seems that Nylander is improving, and so far, this season is no exception.
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Finally, John Tavares is the only one in the group who was not drafted by the team. Instead, when he became an unrestricted free agent (UFA) in 2018, he signed a seven-year, $11 million per year contract with the team. He’s the captain of the Maple Leafs and is known for his quiet leadership and steady offensive production.
The Core Four’s Production Thus Far in 2023-24
How are these core players producing six games into the season? I’ll review each player to outline their production for the season.
William Nylander Has Had an Impressive Start to the Season
Nylander is having an exceptional start to the season, and the numbers don’t lie. He’s on a season-long scoring streak, recording points in each of his six games for a total of 10 points (with five goals and five assists).
Nylander is leading the team’s production. Playing on the second line with Tavares, they are tied for the team lead in points. He gets a ton of power-play time, underlining his importance to the offense.
Nylander is also one of the flashiest of the Maple Leafs’ Core Four. He’s scored a number of highlight-reel goals already this season and continues to make creative plays and score surprisingly quick turnaround goals. His performance has been exceptional, and if it continues, he’s poised for another improved campaign.
John Tavares Is Still Making Waves in the New Season
Even Maple Leafs fans seem to be waiting for Tavares to slow down. He’s been a force, and he has produced his best start of any season he’s played with the Maple Leafs.
Like Nylander, Tavares has had a “perfect” start. He’s also on a six-game scoring streak, which has seen him score three goals and seven assists, to tie Nylander for the team’s scoring lead. He put up five assists in his first two games, and he has continued to add each game.
At 33 years old, Tavares is no longer driving the second line, but he continues to bring value. To many fans’ surprise, he’s thriving as the second-line center on one of the NHL’s top offenses. His consistent offensive production has been a key asset for the team.
Auston Matthews Had a Historic Start to His Season
Matthews started the season on fire with hat tricks in his first two games to join a small but prestigious list of NHL players who accomplished the feat. Only four other players in NHL history have done it – Alex Ovechkin being one of them.
Matthews’ goal-scoring consistency is one of his hallmarks. He’s scored 40 or more goals in each of his last four seasons, and he seems on his way again. He leads the team with seven goals in six games.
Although only 26 years old, He has rapidly begun to take his place among the greatest franchise players of all time. This season, he’s added to his 140 road goals and 79 power-play goals, putting him with other Maple Leafs legends. In short, Matthews has had a remarkable start to the season.
Mitch Marner Has Started the Season Slowly
The one Core Four player who has not started the season like gangbusters is Marner. There are promising signs that he might be coming out of his funk, but it hasn’t happened yet. In his six games, he’s put up five points on a single goal and four assists.
Marner remains a valuable asset on the power play and started the season with a power-play goal and a power-play assist. He’s also a mainstay on the team’s penalty kill unit. His track record suggests that his scoring will pick up. However, we’re still waiting for that breakout game. After registering three assists in his first two games, he’s had two points in his last four games.
The Bottom Line
As the numbers show, each of the team’s Core Four is having a strong season – with the exception of Marner. Given the strength of the Dallas Stars – the team’s opponent Thursday (Oct. 26) night, if their goalie, Jake Oettinger, is on his game, it might be a tough time for the Maple Leafs to put up big points.
It might be that Nylander and Tavares’ season-long scoring streak is in jeopardy. We’ll soon see.