Toronto Maple Leafs: Myriad of takeaways from Locker Cleanout Day

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 23: Frederik Andersen
TORONTO, ON - APRIL 23: Frederik Andersen /
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A new first line on the horizon?

We very seldom get a game where one of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, or William Nylander doesn’t wow fans with their sheer skill and hockey sense. The trio has a great relationship off the ice and their bond shows through when they step foot on the ice.

With the likely departure of Bozak and the lack of a solid depth option at centre via free agency, Mike Babcock could look to split up the the budding superstars onto three separate lines next season.

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While Nylander and Matthews have been inseparable for the majority of their tenure in Toronto, Marner has been holding his own, spending last season with van Riemsdyk and Bozak, and this year with Nazem Kadri and Patrick Marleau.

With Nylander coming into the league as a centre and quickly being transitioned to a winger, the Toronto Maple Leafs tinkered with the 21-year-old down the middle when they were in a pinch this year. Nylander took 650 draws in total this season, winning just over 50 percent of those (51.4 to be exact).

Nylander also had about half of his zone starts in the defensive zone, so he can be looked at as someone Babcock trusts to play in his own zone. What remains to be seen is if Babcock is willing to move him back to centre.

When reporters asked him, Babcock wasn’t willing to tip his cap as to his future plans:

He went on to explain that the Leafs brass didn’t expect to land either Marleau or Ron Hainsey going into the last offseason, so there was no way of predicting who they could get once free agency starts.

While discussing playing with Marleau this season, Marner was asked whether he’d like to see more time alongside Matthews in the future:

"“Definitely, yeah. He’s got a lot of skill in his body. He’s very fast, he creates a lot of offence off that, and defensively he’s always in the right location. He picks off passes well and it was a lot of fun playing with him.”"

That quote was obviously brought up when Matthews spoke to reporters just minutes later. As reported by the Toronto Star, Matthews played it very politically when questioned about him possibly teaming up with Marner:

"“He’s a great player. He makes guys around him better. We have good chemistry off the ice and on the ice when we got played with each other, it was fun. I’d love to play with him but I’m not the one making the lineup cards. Whoever you play with, that’s who it is and we’ve got plenty of great players on this team.”"

There’s no doubt the two have the chemistry to be a great duo together on a line. They didn’t get many chances together this season. Only when the Toronto Maple Leafs desperately needed offence did the pair hop over the boards at the same time.

They also featured on separate power-play units. If they are as good at creating offence as they are at singing Bon Jovi, the Leafs would do extremely well.

Will a line with all three ever happen? Not likely. That’s just stacking one line. But pairing two together hasn’t been a problem up to now for Toronto.

It was fun to see the trio all connect on a goal for the first time in their careers. But don’t get used to seeing all three on the ice very often. As Babcock said, it all depends on the offseason.