William Nylander

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Horvat believes he is ‘just scratching the surface’

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The Vancouver Canucks were finally able to sign restricted free agent Bo Horvat to a new contract on Friday, giving him a six-year, $33 million contract.

The team is obviously excited about what Horvat has accomplished and what he is capable of in the future with general manager Jim Benning calling him a “foundational player.”

Horvat, the team’s first-round pick in 2012, chosen with the pick that was acquired in the Cory Schneider trade with the New Jersey Devils, had his best year to date in 2016-17 by scoring 20 goals and recording 32 assists, leading the team in both goals and total points. It was the first time since the 2005-06 season that a player other than Henrik or Daniel Sedin finished as the team’s leading scorer (Markus Naslund was the leading scorer that year).

Just now entering his age 22 season, Horvat should be entering the portion of his career where he is capable of his best hockey, and that has to be an encouraging sign for the Canucks given what he has already shown. His production has improved steadily across the board every year that he has been in the league and this past season he took a big step toward being a reliable top-line scorer.

He believes that he is just now starting to scratch the surface.

Here he is talking about his new deal on Friday, via Sportsnet’s Iian MacIntyre:

“I did,” he said today. “(But) I think them signing me to a long-term deal means that they they have a lot of support for me and they believe in me. I’m really humbled by that and, obviously, I respect them for that.

“I think I’m just scratching the surface. I’ve only been in the league three years. These next six years is where I can really step up my game and prove myself.”

He was one of just 11 players age 21 or younger to score at least 20 goals and record at least 50 points this past season, joining a list that included Connor McDavid, Austin Matthews, Patrik Laine, Leon Draisaitl, David Pastrnak, Nikolaj Ehlers, Jack Eichel, William Nylander, Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Drouin.

The bad news for the Canucks as a team is that are still looking at what will probably be another long season in 2017-18, especially as the Sedins get one year closer to retirement.

But Horvat, assuming he continues to develop as he has over his first three years in the league, is at least one player that should provide a little bit of hope for the future.

Connor Brown looking to add more offense for Maple Leafs

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The 2016-17 Toronto Maple Leafs had an embarrassment of riches when it came to rookie talent, with Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner and Connor Brown all having breakthrough years. Together that quartet combined to score 101 of the team’s 250 goals.

Most of the headlines went to Matthews, Nylander and Marner, and for good reason. They are the foundation of the franchise and the players that are going to be All-Star level producers for the next decade.

But don’t overlook the fact that Brown also potted 20 goals during the season and has the look of an outstanding complementary piece to go with the trio of superstars.

This past week he signed a three-year contract extension with the team that looks like it will be a pretty solid bargain if he can come close to repeating that production.

But Brown doesn’t seem content with just repeating it. He wants to build on it.

Here is he talking about his expectations for this season, via TSN’s Kristen Shilton.

“I want to continue to be relied upon defensively and play structurally like I have throughout my pro career, try to be conscious of that, but I think I have more to give on the offensive side, especially out of the gate. Out of the gate I was a little slow last year, so hopefully I’ll have a good start.”

Brown did have a slow start out of the gate this past season, scoring just four goals — with only five assists — in his first 31 games before coming on strong in the second half with 16 goals and 11 assists in his final 49 games. Brown is an intriguing player because he has produced big numbers at every level he has played at prior to reaching the NHL, so it seems reasonable to assume he might have even more to give at this level.

The Maple Leafs took a huge step forward in their rebuild this past season by qualifying for the playoffs for just the second time in 12 years and gave the Presidents’ Trophy winning Washington Capitals a pretty good run. With another year of experience and development under the belts, plus the addition of Patrick Marleau in free agency, they might be ready to take an even bigger jump this season.

From ‘pain’ to playoffs, young Maple Leafs face heightened expectations next season

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This post is part of Maple Leafs Day on PHT…

In the span of a year, the Maple Leafs went from the bottom of the NHL standings and front runners in the Auston Matthews Sweepstakes to a playoff spot.

Matthews was taken first overall and made an immediate impact on opening night for a Maple Leafs team — and a fan base — in dire need of hope for a better future.

There is an abundance of hope in Toronto these days.

Matthews scored 40 goals and 69 points and won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. William Nylander and Mitch Marner were excellent in their freshman campaigns and Nazem Kadri at age 26 had his best season with career highs in goals (32) and points (61). How quickly the fortunes of an organization can turn around, though, with a lottery win and a shot at a generational talent.

Two years after coach Mike Babcock predicted “pain” for the franchise as it underwent its rebuild, the Maple Leafs made the playoffs. Then they gave the Capitals everything they could handle in six games before Toronto was eliminated.

Maple Leafs fans haven’t had much to get excited about over the years. Never mind their Stanley Cup drought that dates back to 1967. They made the playoffs only once from 2005-06 to 2015-16 and that lone postseason appearance concluded with an epic third-period, Game 7 meltdown versus the Bruins.

This past season, however, had a different feel. The future looks bright, like success beyond 2016-17 can be sustainable. It’s not just with Matthews, Nylander and Marner. On defense, the Maple Leafs have Morgan Rielly, Nikita Zaitsev and Jake Gardiner, and goalie Frederik Andersen bounced back from a difficult start with his new team. He’s under contract for four more years.

Excitement brings higher expectations, for next season and beyond, as the club may be approaching a window to win a lot quicker than many would’ve predicted a year ago.

Take, for instance, today’s poll question: Will the Maple Leafs have the NHL’s best offense next season? That would be a lofty expectation. The results as of the publishing of this post were nearly 50-50.

They’ve even added notable veteran players like Dominic Moore, Ron Hainsey and, at three years and more than $18 million, Patrick Marleau to enhance their roster with more experience.

Their possible success, as is the case with every team, next season will depend on multiple factors. Will Matthews, Marner and Nylander be able to build off their impressive rookie seasons, or will there be a dreaded sophomore slump in there? It will also require their best players to stay as healthy as possible.

All three of their top young forwards were able to remain, for the most part, healthy during the regular season, with Marner playing the fewest games — at 77.

Andersen had the second most starts (66) of all NHL goalies last season, behind only Cam Talbot, and the Leafs will count on him again to provide the goaltending necessary to make the playoffs.

Pressure to win is inherent in playing hockey in Toronto.

Since the second lockout, however, the standard had been set very low. That was until last season, when Matthews and the Maple Leafs went from a painful rebuild to raising expectations.

The hockey world now waits to see if this young and talented team can handle the pressure and set the bar even higher next spring.

Poll: Will the Maple Leafs have the NHL’s best offense next season?

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This post is part of Maple Leafs Day on PHT…

It’s become pretty clear that the Toronto Maple Leafs have a bright future ahead of them.

Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner are all 21 or younger, and they’ve already shown that they’re capable of putting up points at the NHL level.

Last season, the Leafs shocked the hockey world by not only making the postseason (they pushed the Caps in the first round), but also finishing fifth in goals scored.

Sure, they may have given up more goals than any other team in the top five (Penguins, Wild, Capitals, Rangers), but they’re still sorting things out defensively.

Getting back to the offensive side of the puck, what the Maple Leafs were able to accomplish last season was remarkable. Two of their players scored more than 30 goals (Matthews had 40, Nazem Kadri had 32) and they had three guys score 20 or more (James van Riemsdyk had 29, Nylander had 22, Connor Brown had 20), while Marner and Tyler Bozak scored 19 and 18 respectively.

So given the fact that Toronto’s trio of youngsters have a year under their belts and that they brought in Patrick Marleau in free agency, it’s possible that they’ll be even better offensively in 2017-18.

There’s also a chance that Kadri doesn’t score 30 again, but adding Marleau’s 27 goals from last year can definitely compensate for that.

The other top 5 scoring teams in the league all lost key pieces. The Penguins won’t have Nick Bonino or Matt Cullen, the Wild made Martin Hanzal walk in free agency and they also lost Erik Haula and Jason Pominville, the Capitals no longer have Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams, and the Rangers dealt Derek Stepan away to Arizona.

Unless the dreaded sophomore slump hits the Leafs in a big way, they could challenge for that number one spot in the “goals for” category, but will they be able to outscore the rest of the league?

Alright, it’s your turn to vote. As always, feel free to leave your opinion in the comments section below.

Mike Babcock doesn’t seem too worried about Marleau’s age

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The Toronto Maple Leafs committed three years to free agent Patrick Marleau on Sunday, signing the now former San Jose Sharks forward.

It’s a pricey deal — worth a total of $18.75 million, most of that geared towards signing bonuses, according to CapFriendly.

It also involves a no-movement clause.

That’s quite a bit for a player about to celebrate his 38th birthday in September. Marleau won’t reach his lofty numbers achieved five, six, seven or eight years ago. Knocking on the door of a 40-goal campaign was the norm back then for Marleau.

But he has remained productive into his late 30s, scoring 27 goals and 46 points this past season.

Toronto’s bench boss Mike Babcock coached Marleau with Team Canada in the 2010 and 2014 Olympics. With such emphasis on youth and speed in today’s NHL, signing a soon-to-be 38-year-old forward — especially to a three-year deal — raises eyebrows.

However, Babcock doesn’t seem overly concerned about that deal or Marleau’s age.

Babcock has been put in charge of overseeing the on-ice component of the Maple Leafs rebuild, which, with an impressive group of young and talented players, has taken quite a step forward in the last year. The Maple Leafs have since added veteran players like defenseman Ron Hainsey and center Dominic Moore to their lineup. Marleau is the most noteworthy catch for Toronto over the last day-and-a-half.

From the Canadian Press:

The Leafs are trying to snatch the last bit of good from his Hall of Fame-worthy career while injecting veteran stability and versatility into an lineup that’s mostly populated by youth. The club also has a limited window for making such a move with young stars Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner all still on entry-level contracts.

“We won’t be able to do this in a year or so but we have the room and flexibility to do it (now) and not interrupt the process that we have in place, understanding where our young players are and where they will be,” Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello said in a statement released by the team.

Meanwhile, this marks the end of an era for the Sharks and Marleau.

He played 1,493 regular season games in San Jose, and another 177 in the playoffs. Between regular season and playoffs, Marleau scored 576 goals and 1,202 points with the Sharks.

“Patrick has been a pillar of this franchise since he was drafted as a 17-year-old in 1997, and has become one of the elite players in our team’s history,” said Sharks general manager Doug Wilson in a statement.

“He owns nearly every offensive record in Sharks history, scored some big goals for our team and helped shape San Jose into a true hockey city. While we were hoping he would choose to return to San Jose, we wish him the absolute best and want to thank Patrick, his wife Christina, and their children Landon, Brody, Jagger and Caleb for their time in San Jose, a place he has called home for nearly two decades.”