The Toronto Maple Leafs have won three of their past four games led by a youth movement that has the fanbase wondering if the team’s rebuild could happen faster than expected. Some are even curious if a playoff berth could be possible as early as next year.
Three rookies were recently called up by the Maple Leafs, and it took no time for all three to quickly earn their first NHL goals. William Nylander, Nikita Soshnikov and Zach Hyman have made an impact in their short time in the big leagues and are starting to hurt Toronto’s chances of winning the draft lottery. The trio are making such an impact fans are already penciling them into next season’s opening night lineup.
Finding young players on salary cap-friendly entry-level deals who can contribute on a nightly basis is every general manager’s dream. However, say Toronto finds space in the lineup for all three players next season and still wins the draft lottery and the top overall pick from this June’s draft makes the opening night lineup as well. That might be four exciting young players on great contracts, but it would still come with plenty of growing pains.
The Arizona Coyotes started the year with an electrifying rookie duo of Max Domi and Anthony Duclair, and both players took the league by storm in the first month of the season. As the season progressed, the long 82-game schedule began to take its toll on their bodies and, although both players are contributors on their squad, neither is the game-changer they showed at the start of the season.
It’s not the fault of either player, it’s just nearly impossible for rookies to consistently produce points in a day and age when each additional game played is providing more film for opposing coaches to strategize a defense. Even Dylan Larkin, who looks destined to become the new franchise player for the Detroit Red Wings, has struggled at times this season despite all the firepower surrounding him.
Toronto’s trio of rookies might be making an impact now given their significant contributions in three recent victories that includes a combined five points and a shootout-winning goal. However, there’s going to come a time between now and the end of the season when teams expose their inexperience and stronger players remove them from the puck. Even a summer in the weight room and studying game tape won’t change much heading into next year, meaning the same thing will occur all season long with rookie mistakes and opposing veterans taking advantage.
As exciting as the young Maple Leafs have looked, it’s important for the fanbase to temper expectations for next season. Nylander and Hyman won’t be a consistent dynamic duo all season long just like Domi and Duclair haven’t been. A No. 1 overall draft pick, if Toronto happens to get lucky, will still struggle at times just like Larkin has. That’s not to say there won’t be offensive brilliance at times and hard fought victories, but unfortunately the light at the end of the tunnel of this rebuild still isn’t visible just yet.