For as long as I can remember, every season begins with both the fans and media picking one player to target on the Maple Leafs. In the 90s it was Larry Murphy, 2000s it was Bryan McCabe and during the Brian Burke era it was Phil Kessel. Do you remember the hot dog story? Currently fans and media have begun targeting Zach Hyman with near marksman precision.
In Zach’s case, I do not understand the criticism he receives. For starters, he has grown his offensive stats this season. Only 20 games in, Zach has recorded 4 goals & 6 assists, totalling 10 points, almost half of what he recorded all last season. His plus/minus is +8 and he appears to compliment his line mates Auston Matthews and William Nylander very well. Zach also approaches each game with a workman like attitude. He has always been ready to play and continues to thrive on the penalty kill with Leo Komarov. These are the fundamental reasons why Coach Babcock continues to rely on Zach every game.
So, how does a player, who increased his offensive output, flourishes on the penalty kill and appears to be in his coach’s favor, find himself in the doghouse with some fans and media?
Those who criticize Zach begin with the fact he plays on the Maple Leafs first line. Hyman does not have the skill to skate alongside Matthews & Nylander. He also has been accused of having “cement hands”. He does not have the flare to create a play with a highlight reel goal, nor can he pass like his two line mates. Many argue Patrick Marleau would be a better fit.
Those who make these arguments are missing the point. It’s not what he fails to do that makes him a liability, but it is what he is able to do that makes him an asset. Hyman is bulldog chasing the puck around the ice. He is willing and able to go into the dirty areas, even risking possible injury so Matthews and Nylander do not have to. Hyman also retrieves pucks on the dump and then starts the cycle in the offensive zone. Just look at how many times Hyman has stripped a player of the puck, forcing a turn over to start a play that leads to a goal. Think about all the assists Hyman would have if the primary assist on a goal went to him for initiating the scoring play.
The veterans on the team should be able to lead by example at this point in their careers and too many times the veteran’s stupid plays or defensive lapses ended up in the back of the net. Yet Hyman, is the one people jump onto to social media to complain about.
One of my biggest issues with the Maple Leafs losing streak was the lack of worth ethic, desire to complete assignments and discipline on ice. Jake Gardiner, Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri could all be called out for their issues on the ice during the losing streak.
Zach is the Swiss Army knife of this roster. He could play on every line for the Maple Leafs. If the team does not resign Leo Komarov from the Kadri Line, Hyman could easily replace him. He could also be an asset on the Bozak and van Riemsdyk line. The third line is notoriously bad for giving up goals and Hyman could round them out by bringing some defensive accountability. Should Babcock need the flexibility to reward a player like Marner or a player on the Marlies for good play, I can also see him easily squeeze on the fourth line.
Hyman’s game reminds me a lot of Darcy Tucker in respect to how they play the game with heart and determination. The Maple Leafs are already stacked with scoring threats. What Hyman provides is something different. He does all the dirty work, both by playing the hard penalty kill minutes and going into the dirty areas to get his line in the offensive zone.
Criticism against Hyman is unwarranted and all one must to appreciate him is look at smaller things he does each and every game. From his ability to initiate scoring plays to his effectiveness at killing penalties, Hyman contributions add to big results and are vital to the team’s success. He has earned the praise of our decorated coach, and rightfully so.