Mitch Marner

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A big night for the rookies and a big win for the Maple Leafs

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William Nylander helped get Toronto started on Thursday, extending his point streak to 10 games — a new Maple Leafs franchise record for a rookie.

Connor Brown finished it with his 17th goal of the season, securing a 4-2 win for the Maple Leafs over the New Jersey Devils.

Toronto has won three in a row and moves three points clear of Boston for third in the Atlantic Division, with a game in hand, which further helps the Maple Leafs’ playoff chances with nine games remaining on their schedule.

Just another big night for Toronto’s impressive crop of rookies.

Auston Matthews had a pair of assists.

— Nylander had a goal and an assist. He set one and tied another franchise rookie record on Thursday.

Mitch Marner had an assist, giving him 40 helpers this season, which ties the franchise rookie record set in 1943-44.

“They’re good players,” said coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Star. “I didn’t know Marner would make the team. I knew Matthews and Nylander were good players. I knew Brown and (Zach) Hyman were relentless. I had no idea (Nikita) Zaitsev was as close to how good he is.

“We have lots of good players.”

In May of 2015, Babcock predicted at his introductory press conference that the Maple Leafs would, during their massive rebuild, endure “pain.” This was, he said, to be a long process — a “massive, massive challenge.”

Approaching the two-year anniversary of that event — after all the losing that franchise and its fan base has gone through, which obviously helped them with the Matthews lottery last year — the Maple Leafs are poised to make the playoffs with a nucleus of young players that present even more promise for the future.

“We just want to get in to the playoffs, and give ourselves a chance,” continued Babcock. “We’re playing well, and finding a way to win games. That’s what we have to continue to do.”

Pre-game reading: Does the NHL’s playoff format need fixing?

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— Up top, Brian Boucher and Mike Milbury have their say on NHL participation in the Olympics, something Gary Bettman continues to put into doubt.

— At least fans can still be certain there will be playoff hockey. That being said, does the NHL’s format need fixing? Because as it stands right now, at least one of Washington, Pittsburgh, or Columbus is guaranteed to be gone after the first round, and only one of those three can survive past the second round. The Capitals, Penguins, and Blue Jackets are first, second, and third in the overall standings, respectively. Hence, the debate. (The Washington Post)

— The Caps take on the Blue Jackets tonight in D.C., and Barry Trotz is looking forward to the fight for playoff positioning. The Caps, you’ll recall, coasted to first place in the Metro Division last season. But they can’t afford to coast now. “Having gone both routes now, I prefer this,” Trotz said. “Because it’s more meaningful. … It was in our hands too early last year, and I think it took a little edge off. You get too comfortable for too long, you get too soft.” (Washington Post)

— Don’t expect the NBA’s controversial practice of resting star players to become a common problem for the NHL. Said Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty: “I just think hockey’s a different kind of animal where I don’t think guys would want to do it. Guys are stubborn enough to probably fight it if they were asked and that’s how I would see that going down.” (Canadian Press)

— Why Dave Hakstol won’t be fired, by Flyers beat reporter Dave Isaac, who writes: “It took multiple pleas to woo Hakstol from a much more comfortable college job at the University of North Dakota. To fire Hakstol this early would be an admission from Hextall that this part of his grand plan — hiring the coach that he thought would grow with the roster — was wrong.” (Courier-Post)

William Nylander may sometimes get overshadowed in Toronto by fellow Maple Leafs rookies Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. But with 20 goals in 70 games, what Nylander has done is still very impressive. (The Hockey News)

Enjoy the games!

Maple Leafs sign Jeremy Bracco to entry level deal

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The Toronto Maple Leafs came to terms with another of their prized young prospects on Tuesday afternoon with the signing of of 2015 second-round draft pick Jeremy Bracco to a three-year entry level deal.

Bracco is currently playing for the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League and getting ready for the start of the OHL playoffs.

After leaving Boston College early in the 2015-16 season and turning to the OHL, Bracco has been one of the top offensive players in the league, tallying 46 goals and 101 assists in 106 games over the past two years with the Kitchener Rangers and Spitfires. That includes his 25 goals and 58 assists in 57 games this season.

The Maple Leafs selected Bracco with the 61st pick in the 2015 draft. It is a class that is already looking to be a great one for the Maple Leafs.

Their top pick that year, Mitch Marner, is one of the top rookies in the NHL this season while the team has also already come to terms with their other second-round pick from that year, defenseman Travis Dermott, and their third-round pick, Andrew Nielsen.

Both players are currently playing in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies where they are the top two scoring defensemen on the team.

With Bracco now officially signed, the Maple Leafs have one of the best collections of young forward talent in the league with Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Marner all already making a huge impact in the NHL.

The Maple Leafs are back in a playoff position

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Morgan Rielly scored 2:13 into overtime to lift the Toronto Maple Leafs over the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 on Saturday night.

Rielly’s wrist shot past Cam Ward gave Toronto its third straight victory and moved them one point ahead of the New York Islanders for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Mitch Marner and James van Riemsdyk also scored for Toronto, and Frederik Andersen made 36 saves.

Victor Rask and Teuvo Teravainen scored for Carolina, which has lost 11 of 15 games. Ward made 23 saves but couldn’t steer aside Rielly’s shot, which bounced off his left leg pad and angled into the back corner of the net.

The Hurricanes led twice but couldn’t hold it either time.

Rask opened the scoring when he corralled a rolling puck below the right faceoff dot and flipped it over Andersen’s left shoulder 8:59 into the first period.

The Maple Leafs evened the score less than a minute later when Marner connected on a one-timer with a hard wrist shot from the right faceoff circle that zipped past Ward.

Carolina retook the lead in the second period, but Toronto charged back quickly.

Teravainen scored 45 seconds into the second when his wrist shot from the point was accidentally deflected in by Rielly, but van Riemsdyk got even for Toronto when he sneaked a wrist shot over Ward’s blocker at the 7:37 mark.

That was all the scoring in regulation despite a fast-paced third period of frenzied shots and tough saves.

Rielly broke through in the extra session. The Toronto defenseman carried the puck behind the Hurricanes net and circled back around in between the faceoff circles, and his attempt on net found its way in off Ward’s pad.

Blue Jackets close in on Capitals after franchise record-tying win

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The Columbus Blue Jackets got one step closer to franchise history on Friday.

Sergei Bobrovsky, in a bid for a fourth consecutive game without allowing a goal, came close but ultimately couldn’t set a new mark for the longest shutout streak in franchise history.

Evan Rodrigues ended Bobrovsky’s shutout streak at just over 182 minutes, opening the scoring for the Buffalo Sabres before the Blue Jackets came back and eventually won 4-3. While Bobrovsky’s shot at club history was spoiled early, the Blue Jackets saw another new record set.

Zach Werenski recorded an assist in the first period, giving him 40 points, which sets the new club record for most points in a single season by a rookie. The achievement is all the more impressive because he’s a defenseman, known to be a difficult position for young players in the NHL, and won’t turn 20 years old until July.

His play quickly matched the high expectations placed upon him by management, and he’s continued to be productive since then. If it wasn’t for the fact his freshman class includes stars like Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Mitch Marner, you could probably pencil Werenski in as a potential Calder Trophy favorite.

Tonight’s result gives Columbus its 43rd victory — which ties the franchise record set in 2013-14, per the Blue Jackets. They also tied the franchise record for most home victories in a single season. And there is still 16 games remaining on their schedule.

More importantly, the Blue Jackets’ recent three-game winning streak, and seven wins in their last 10 games, has kept them in the race for the Metropolitan Division. Granted, they’ve had some help with the Capitals having lost two in a row, and they visit the L.A. Kings and Anaheim Ducks in a back-to-back this weekend. Those are never easy. Columbus is now just three points back of Washington, and both teams are even at 66 games played. They also play each other twice down the stretch.

The Blue Jackets play the Sabres again tomorrow. They can make franchise history for most wins in a single season. And it’s only the middle of March.