Welcome to our yearly(ish) exercise in trying to write a breathtaking and interesting article on the least surprising results of our T25U25 series — revealing the top three results of William Nylander, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews.

They’ve all been in the NHL for a few years now. There’s not much growth left for them. We know, more or less, who they are. We know their strengths and weaknesses. They’re clearly elite players and always in a whole other tier ahead of everyone else who has come and gone from this list since they all made the NHL.

Since the results aren’t surprising, here’s the tables:

Winter T25: Top Three

PlayerWilliam NylanderMitch MarnerAuston Matthews
Summer 2020 Rank321
Birth DateMay 1, 1996May 5, 1997September 17, 1997
Weighted Rank2.62.41
Lowest Rank331
Highest Rank221
Spread in Rank110
Total Votes999

Being able to write them all together is better than going through the motions for three articles over three days. So this can be less an analysis of who they are and why we ranked them where we did — there’s not much new to say. Instead, we can make this an homage to three players who will likely wind up being all-time great players in Leafs’ history (assuming they stay here long enough).

#3: William Nylander

Our precious Swedish boy is the oldest of the three amigos, and the first to be drafted by the Leafs at the start of the rebuild. For his first two full seasons in the NHL, he put up 61 points in each season while riding shotgun on Matthews’ line. He was a transition wizard, and seemed to have untapped potential due to his frustrating propensity to miss the net on his shots.

Then his contract negotiation happened, where he missed a good chunk of the season. When he came back, he struggled to produce as he was playing catch-up with everyone else who had been in game shape all year. Come the playoffs, he was relegated to third line center with Marleau and Brown after Kadri got suspended again.

He came into this past season saying he wanted to become dominant, and... he did. He scored a career high 31 goals in only 68 games thanks to a newfound commitment to parking his thicc butt in front and taking tons of shots in close. He was only two points away from tying his career best in that regard. He played on the right wing, and the left wing, with both Matthews and Tavares. He carved out a spot on the powerplay.

Can he follow that up this year? He did have a big spike in his shooting percentage compared to the rest of his career, but he also started taking more of those shots in front and got time on PP1. So he may not have quite as many goals at the same rate, but he may also start getting more assists after Tavares had a relative down year. It may also depend on who is on his other wing: a speedy reliable guy like Mikheyev or a better goal scoring threat like Vesey — or Robertson as a dark horse.

Here’s what other voters had to say about William:

Hardev: Had no comment because he’s not good enough.

Katya: They’re tied as far as I’m concerned. If there’s a difference, it’s not meaningful.

All I know is, I ranked Nylander 2nd like I have every year because I view him in the same tier as Marner but I love Nylander more so that’s the tie breaker. This will be his last year on our T25 list as well, so our top 3 won’t be quite as clear next season.

#2: Mitch Marner

Mitch Marner is a wizard with the puck. He’s shifty, fast, can dangle, and can sling passes you wouldn’t expect were possible. His big weakness is his shot, but he’s so skilled he can still find ways to score goals (just please don’t try to be a sniper... your one-timer ain’t gonna fool anyone that it was Ovechkin).

He’s our local boy of the three, from Markham in the GTA. He’s chaos on skates when he has the puck, but more reliable defensively than you might expect from the stereotype you think he fits as a small, shifty, skilled winger. He can PK and cause chaos there. He can break games open with his play making.

He also has a weird dad and had a contentious contract negotiation that led to him being overpaid, and making a lot of fans upset by everything that was said through the media. Most people still like him, I think, but some vocally don’t and most probably don’t like him as much as they did before.

And I do admit a lot of that annoyed me, but he’s still undeniably a great player. He will be a better-than-point-per-game guy for years to come. His passing and playmaking is a great complement to both Matthews and Tavares. He can be lethal on the powerplay, especially if he plays on his correct side (coughs aggressively in Keefe’s direction). When he’s on, he’s so fun to watch. I don’t know if he will be a long-term Leaf for his whole contract, or beyond it, but I do think we should cherish having him on the Leafs for as long as he’s here.

Here’s what other voters had to say:

Fulemin: He’s not quite as good as 94 points made him look and he’s a hell of a lot better than his contract makes me feel. He’s a star, rain or shine.

Hardev: Had no comment because he’s not good enough.

Still just 23 years old, Marner will have one more year of eligibility on this list where he will be a clear and undisputed #2 without William to jostle with.

#1: Auston Matthews

Auston Matthews is an almost unparalleled goal scorer. No one has scored more goals at even strength since he entered the league, not even Alex Ovechkin. He was drafted as a big center who we were told was the next great two-way center, like Anze Kopitar. He blew us away with Team North America during the World Cup, dangling Victor freaking Hedman on his knees, scoring two goals and an assist in their three games.

He scored four goals in his NHL debut. He broke franchise records in his first season with 40 goals. He continued to find new ways to make his shot more ridiculously lethal, and added a one-timer. But the fabled two-way defensive ability hadn’t shown up... until last season. It wasn’t his strongest season offensively, but he made up for it by having by far his best defensive season. Now some of that can be noisy, but it does match up somewhat with what we could see: he did appear to get better.

I’m not sure how much more improvement he can make — offensively or defensively. He’s 23 but a later birthday, so he has two more #1 rankings to add to his mantle before he ages off the list.  Goal scoring is arguably the most important skill a player can have, and he has it in spades. He doesn’t just score goals with his ridiculous shooting — though having it sure does help. He has pulled off ridiculous deflections, picking up rebounds in front, dangling in tight with deft puck handling, and any other way you to score you can think of.

Depending on how real his defensive improvement last year was, and if he can get even better over time, I would not be surprised if he wins an MVP one year. The stars may need to align so he gets the perfect combination of good luck, stellar health, and playing at the top of his game for a full season to do it in a world with Connor McDavid and other candidates every year, but it can happen.

Here’s what the other voters had to say:

Seldo: He’s fine.

Hardev: Had no comment because he’s not good enough.

Jared: Who?

Katya: I like it when people speculate about who will knock him off the top of this list. Time, baby, nothing but time.

You can tell we’re at the end of the series by how short or non-existent the blurbs for these three are compared to the others!

So that does it for another edition of our Top 25 Under 25 series. Our next version will likely come in the off-season. The playoffs are set to end no later than July 15th, and the draft over the July 23rd/24th weekend. We’ll have a fresh new crop of draft picks to argue over, plus anyone we trade for, minus anyone we trade away.

Thank you all for enjoying a bit of a weird one for this winter series! It’s been fun to plan, rank, write, and argue over.

Will all three of the Three Musketeers finish their contracts with the Leafs?

No - Nylander will be dealt as the most tradeable contract60
No - Dubas will have to shed Marner’s contract as the most overpaid188
No - Matthews will demand a trade to Arizhahahaha I can’t even finish that33