Almost every time the Leafs have finished a season for the past seven years, very rarely are there many player that have surpassed expectations, nevermind enough to create an article. But for the most part, this year is an exception. Even though the Toronto Maple Leafs did not make the playoffs (which in most circles, was expected), a lot of players played exceptionally better than most people anticipated.
In almost every position on most parts of the team, there was somebody that excelled.
Here is my list of Toronto Maple Leafs that played better than most critics expected.
I figured I would get the most obvious person out of the way.
James Reimer started his first game with the expectation from management that he would hopefully fill the void well enough until either Jonas Gustavsson or J.S. Giguere was well enough to play.
Not only did he fill the void, he absolutely stole the show, giving the Toronto Maple Leafs some of its best goaltending since Ed Belfour graced the net back in the early 2000's, accumulating a remarkable 20 wins and three shutouts while posting a 2.60 GAA and a .921 SPCT in only 35 games.
He exceeded expectations and gave Toronto a shot at the playoffs. Lets just hope he can carry that over to next year and continue where he left off.
Before this season began, most people wrote Grabovski off as a player with great playmaking potential,but little desire and defensive ability.
But this season that all changed when Grabovski finally showed the Maple Leafs that there patience paid off by showing a marked improvement in almost every category, giving the Maple Leafs some stability down the middle and a face-off man that they could rely on.
He made players better around him and made himself finally look like an NHL player that could stick around for a while by posting 29 goals, 29 assists for 58 points.
Oh and almost forgot, he was a team best plus-14. Talk about a complete 180.
If Brian Burke keeps the Grabovski-Kulemin-MacArthur line together, look for all three players to get even better next season.
Always known as a player who never met expectations, Brian Burke signed Clarke MacArthur to a low risk/high reward contract worth $1.1 million dollars.
Talk about a return on your investment.
MacArthur made an immediate impression with the team, scoring five goals in his first four games and showing some of that promise that made him a highly touted prospect with the Buffalo Sabres.
Even though his goal scoring did become a bit more spread out for the rest of the season, his point production did not, continuously setting up plays for both Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski throughout the season, finishing with 21 goals and 41 assists for 62 points.
Lets hope Burke can keep him and keep together what was one of the most consistent second lines in the NHL last season.
Coming over in the Dion Phaneuf trade, Keith Aulie was thought of more as an afterthought then anything else. Little did we know that the Maple Leafs had a top four defending prospect waiting in the wings.
This season, Keith Aulie came up on a tryout after a failed attempt of having a steady defense with the likes of Beauchemin, Komisarek and Lebda playing for the team. Once he had a taste of the game, Keith Aulie became one of the teams steadiest and most consistent defenders.
Although he was sent down, he returned shortly after and helped the Maple Leafs on there run towards the playoffs.
He may not have any scoring ability (2 goals and 0 assists in 40 games), he has the uncanny ability to play solid defense and reminds me of a very young Hal Gill, only with better skating ability.
The story behind Darryl Boyce always makes me feel like anybody can have a chance at the NHL if they work hard enough.
Coming out of junior, Darryl Boyce was not considered much of a prospect. He was just a hard working third line player that was willing to work hard.
Not even being offered a scholarship to an American school, Boyce then joined the University of New Brunswick of the Atlantic University Athletic Association (Canada) and played very well, earning himself a tryout contract with the Leafs two years later.
He earned a spot with the Marlies and that same season, got called up to play for the Leafs. In his first game in the NHL, he broke his leg and was put on Injured Reserve for the remainder of the season.
Sound familiar? (Doug Gilmour).
After toiling with the Marlies for over two and a half years, he got the call again, this time as a 26 year old and made the most of it, showing that he belongs in the NHL. He showed an undying determination playing very gritty in that third line role he was so used to, even earning the second best plus/minus at a Plus-8, only trailing team leader Mikhail Grabovski in that category.
Even though the Leafs have always had an abundance of third line forwards, I believe that Darryl Boyce not only surpassed expectations, but has earned the right to have a spot on this team next season.
Talk about coming out of nowhere. Joey Crabb wasn't even on the map when the 2010-2011 season began.
Signed as an unrestricted free agent from Atlanta, he was expected to help develop some of the younger players on the Marlies and give the Toronto Maple Leafs some depth if injuries hit the team.
Instead, he showed that he was more than an AHL veteran and earned the opportunity to play on the Maple Leafs squad, helping shore up the third line with Darryl Boyce and give the Maple Leafs some much needed grinding ability.
Although his 15 points in 48 games would suggest other wise, Crabb showed the ability to keep the puck in the opponents zone while also playing some very sound, two-way hockey.
He is another player that came out of nowhere at the beginning of the season with no expectations to surprise and show that he also belongs in the NHL. Lets hope that the Maple Leafs decide to keep him.
Easily my favourite player on the Toronto Maple Leafs this season, Tim Brent showed exactly what the Maple Leafs have been lacking the longest time. Hard work, determination, sacrifice and an attitude of never giving up.
Coming into training camp, all eyes were on Nazem Kadri to make the team and earn a spot on the Leafs. If anything were to happen otherwise, Mike Zigomanis (who I personally believe should be in the NHL) would fill the spot just in case Kadri faltered.
Then came along Tim Brent.
He worked harder and showed more than anyone else that he wanted to be on this team, and after a very interesting camp, earned a spot on the Leafs squad. He even scored the first goal of the regular season for the Leafs as well.
Throughout the season, Brent showed how much every player should sacrifice while playing the game by taking hits, blocking shots, and being the poster boy for what every player on this team should be.
He may not have been flashy this season, but Brent showed that he belonged, and was one of the most surprising players to make the team.
Luke Schenn was excellent. Always steady, always dependable, and easily one of, if not the best defender for the Maple Leafs this season.
So how did he exceed expectations?
Well, Luke Schenn did not have the best season last season. He was a little off most nights and showed that the sophomore slump does exist. So coming into this season, expectations were there that he should improve.
But how much we did was the surprising part.
He was the best defenseman on the team, he was in the top defensive pairing all season long, while also having career highs in Assists (17) and Points (22). Not to mention he was once again one of the tops in the league in hits.
With Luke Schenn once again patrolling the blueline for the Leafs next season, it is very easy to assume that the Maple Leafs will only get better and finally beat that seven year slump of not making the playoffs.
Lets just hope that Burke keeps them. You never know what he is capable of in the offseason.