When people talk about the “core” of players the Maple Leafs are trying to put together in Toronto, the names you often hear revolve around the likes of Morgan Rielly, James van Riemsdyk, and Mitch Marner. Now as the Leafs usher in the young age, you’re seeing prospects like William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen enter the fold.
But the name that often gets overlooked is Jake Gardiner.
Yesterday’s tilt against Gardiner’s hometown Minnesota Wild was a great example of the type of impact he can have on a game. The Leafs put forth a valiant effort on the second half of a back-to-back against a team vying for a wild card spot in the Western conference.
Leading the charge was Gardiner, driving the play and scoring the only goal for Toronto. When he was on the ice at even strength, the Leafs had over 85% of the shot attempts (corsi) in 19 minutes of action, according to Naturalstattrick.com. Unreal.
This type of production from Gardiner has been a regular occurrence that’s fallen under the radar due to the many other storylines that surround the team. He’s produced a possession rating better than 60% in 19 games this season, and five of which saw him reach over 70% according to WarOnIce.com.
He stands atop the Toronto defenseman at a score adjusted rate of 56.92% of corsi-for attempts per 60 minutes at 5v5. Only Frankie Corrado is currently better than that, but he’s also played 40 less games.
Defensively he’s effective at suppressing the shot attempts against. In the last five years, Gardiner ranks among the top Leafs defenders with a 50.29 shot attempts (corsi) against rating per 60 minutes at even strength.
While he’s been playing well and establishing his role in the NHL, the Maple Leafs have recognized his value. Instead of another bridge deal, the Leafs went long term with Gardiner at a 4.05M cap hit that has three more years. Perfect for a defenseman that at the least locks into your second pairing, plays on your power play, and can carry the team when playing well.
Let’s not forget about the way he played in the 2013 playoff series against the Boston Bruins. Doubted by then head coach Randy Carlyle, Gardiner rose to the occasion and was clearly the best player for the Leafs not including James Reimer.
He may not be talked up well in the media, a lot of which is due to the remnants of the Carlyle era, but Gardiner’s game has become a consistent point of optimism for the Maple Leafs and they should move forward considering him as a player for the “dream” lineup.
And if the opportunity presents itself, Toronto may do well looking to expand Gardiner’s game, such as instituting a slap shot on the power play. We saw a beautiful howitzer last night, and there’s been more of that when Gardiner actually decides to shoot: