After weeks of critiquing Patrick Marleau’s $18.75 million deal, it is time to take a look at how he fits on the Maple Leafs. The 37 year old is not the same calibre of player he once was, but his ability to finish his scoring chances is a welcoming addition. With over 1400 NHL games under his belt, the Leafs ought to know what they are getting here.
Mike Babcock rarely altered his forward lines last season, and the changes he did make usually came on the right wing. Auston Matthews spent the year next to Zach Hyman, Leo Komarov next to Nazem Kadri, and James Van Reimsdyk next to Tyler Bozak. With all three players returning and Matt Martin locked in on the fourth line, something has to give.
I expect Patrick Marleau to play next to Auston Matthews. Zach Hyman owns a right-hand shot and a prototypical checking line style of play, which makes him a natural fit to move to the fourth line. Simply put, the team must look for improved scoring production on Matthews’ left wing.
Hyman will not shoot below 7% forever, but he is not in the same calibre as Marleau in terms of making the most of his chances. Out of his 19 NHL seasons, Marleau posted a shooting percentage below 10% only once. Of course, if the Maple Leafs complete a trade before the season starts, the projected line combinations could change in a hurry.
Taking A Look At Patrick Marleau
Marleau is a scoring winger who continues to impress with his above average speed. His scoring touch around the net is his calling card, and his well-rounded game allows him to play in all situations. Mike Babcock utilized Marleau in a variety of different roles on Team Canada, including checking line match-ups against top competition. While Marleau could pair up with Kadri against top lines, Leo Komarov’s strong defensive game currently makes him the favourite for this role.
With a career shooting percentage of 13.4%, Marleau’s ability to make the most of his chances continually separates him as a regular 30 goal scorer. While this figure is closer to 11% these days, this remains a talented finisher who can add scoring to any line. Matthews and William Nylander are bound to create plenty of scoring chances, and Marleau is the perfect candidate to help finish these plays off. While he is not as quick as he once was, Marleau shows that he can still impress with his speed and scoring touch in the GIF above.
Pairing Marleau With A Top-End Puck Carrier & Passer
At this point in his career, Marleau is not able to “drive a line” like he could in his heyday. Toronto will still lean on William Nylander, Mitchell Marner, Nazem Kadri, and Auston Matthews in terms of zone entries, with Marleau becoming more of a secondary option in this area. His assist totals fell sharply in recent years, and it is tough to expect him to be the primary playmaker on his line.
As a result, we should expect Marleau to be paired with a top-end puck carrier and playmaker. While he would be a terrific option to play alongside the playmaking Mitch Marner, James Van Riemsdyk is already enjoying plenty of success in this role. As shown in the GIF below, Marleau’s speed can somewhat replace Hyman’s forechecking ability, as he regularly beats opposing defenders to loose pucks.
Helping Toronto’s Powerplay
The Leafs finished 2nd on the powerplay last season, and Marleau will help to keep this efficiency going over the next few seasons. In the GIF above, you’ll notice how Marleau slowly backs up to find a hole in Montreal’s coverage. He figures to set up in the middle of the 1-3-1 formation, either right in front of the net or in the slot.
This addition will hopefully convince Mike Babcock to take Leo Komarov off the powerplay, as simply is not known as a major scoring threat. Marleau’s 6’2 frame can be used in front of the net to create headaches for opposing goalies, and he is quite good at deflecting point shots.
What To Expect Going Forward
Zach Hyman carried a 4.5% shooting percentage at 5 on 5 last season, and although this number is bound to improve, it makes sense to put a gifted finisher next to Matthews and Nylander. While Hyman could certainly top 35 points next season with the same line mates, his speed and strength on the forecheck would make him a natural replacement for Nikita Soshnikov on the team’s fourth line. I expect Hyman to rack up ice time on the penalty kill, and join Dominic Moore’s line for plenty of defensive zone starts.
Although Marleau’s $18.75 million guarantee is quite the overpay, he remains a regular 25-goal scorer and a skilled finisher. His durability gives him the opportunity to score 30 goals in any given season, and I expect him to be paired with two incredible offensive talents to maximize his finishing ability. His scoring rate at 5 on 5 leaves more to be desired, but it looks like he performed quite well in terms of gaining the zone last season:
^Note: Visual courtesy of Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey)
Additionally, Marleau’s addition to the powerplay should allow Babcock to take Leo Komarov off of the powerplay. Komarov was Toronto’s worst forward in terms of points per minute at 5 on 4 last season, and Marleau’s size allows him to be a respectable net front presence.
Barring a trade, this is my best guess at Toronto’s forward lines for opening night:
Projected Forward Lines:
|Patrick Marleau||Auston Matthews||William Nylander|
|Leo Komarov||Nazem Kadri||Connor Brown|
|James van Riemsdyk||Tyler Bozak||Mitchell Marner|
|Matt Martin||Dominic Moore||Zach Hyman|