Dynamic, phenomenal, unstoppable. These were just a few of the replies I received when I asked Leafs Twitter to describe the top line in one word. Bunting, Matthews, and Marner have been on fire lately. That line is arguably one of the best in the league right now. The chemistry between those three, both on and off the ice, is something that cannot be written. It’s a lot of fun watching them play together. Whether it’s Auston scoring highlight reel goals, Mitch creating magic at both ends of the ice, or Michael getting under the skin of the opposing team’s players and raising hell in front of the net; it’s never a dull moment. And with how that line is playing right now, it would be a great disservice to not give each of them their own write up. So without further ado, let’s get into it.
Michael Bunting (53GP 19G 22A 41P)
Michael “the greasy rat” Bunting. The Scarborough kid with something to prove. Hands down Kyle Dubas’ best signing in the off-season. Not only has Bunting met the expectations that were placed on him, he exceeded those expectations in a short period of time. He was an early fan favourite, and for good reason. He’s feisty. He’s energetic. He’s passionate. And he’s a damn good hockey player. Bunting adds that much needed grit to the lineup without sacrificing skill. He brings a little extra something to this Leafs team that was missing before. For a player that was originally a depth signing, he sure has become a key component to this Leafs’ teams recent success. And with a price tag of $950,000 AAV, how can you not go to bat for the guy? (No pun intended.) One of my favourite Michael Bunting moments from this season was when he scored his first hat trick as a Leaf, in an exciting 7-4 win over the Wings. Since that game in Detroit on January 29th, he has consistently been producing in his 1LW role. Leading the NHL in rookie scoring, he’s a player that deserves all the hype. And then some.
Auston Matthews (50GP 37G 31A 68P)
AM34: the man, the myth, the legend. Since coming into the league in 2016, the superstar centre has been on an absolute tear. Scoring four goals in his NHL debut, Auston certainly made a name for himself. And now, five and a half years later, that name is one of the biggest in the National Hockey League. The reigning Rocket Richard winner is currently tied for first in the NHL in goals. After a slow start to the 2021-22 season, he’s back to his usual scoring ways. This is his sixth consecutive 30-goal season. SIXTH! He’s been the best 5v5 goal scorer since he entered the league. And at age 24, he’s only going to get better. In his last five games, he’s tallied 4 goals and 5 assists. But it’s not just the fact that he scores goals that makes him so enjoyable to watch, it’s how he scores them. That toe drag. The speed of his release. Every goal scored by #34 looks as if it was drawn up by Picasso himself. An absolute force of nature offensively, Matthews’ defensive game is also greatly improving. At this point in the season, I think it’s fair to say that he has put himself into the Selke Trophy conversation. And if you disagree, argue with a wall.
Mitch Marner (44GP 21G 35A 56P)
Magic Mitch. That nickname feels more fitting right now than ever before. Marner has been on an absolute heater the past month; being named the NHL’s first star for February. Not only did he have an eight-game goal streak, he also scored his first career hat trick against the Red Wings. On Saturday’s game in Detroit, he was absolutely buzzing. But he didn’t stop at three goals, he hit ‘em with the four. Chills. Absolute chills. I don’t know about you but I am so here for #16 finding his swagger again. We love a confident king! Since returning from Covid protocol on January 15th, Mitch leads the NHL in goals (15) and points (35). Add that to the list of things you love to see. He’s becoming more of a shooting threat for the Leafs, while still maintaining his playmaking ability. This is a refreshing change from his usual pass-first mentality. And while I know most Leafs fans won’t change their tune on Marner until he proves himself in the playoffs; there’s no denying that he’s an elite winger who brings something special to the current lineup. His value to this team is truly immeasurable and we’re lucky to have him in the blue and white. It’s time to stop discussing his contract and start putting some respect on his name.
There’s Always A Silver Lining
If one thing can be said about an 82-game season, it’s that you never quite know what you’re going to get. The regular season brings many ups and downs for every team, and the Leafs are no exception. Between battling injuries, illness, etc., the Leafs have faced a fair amount of adversity thus far. And with thirty games still remaining in their season, it’s safe to say that they haven’t seen the last of these hardships. But what defines a team is how they overcome those challenges, which is something this current team has recently discovered. Although the Leafs have gone through a bit of a slump due to goaltending, there has been one constant positive, and that is the production of the top line. Regardless of what the doom and gloom side of Toronto media tells you, this line is worth getting excited about. We’re witnessing something pretty special. Enjoy it.