Toronto Maple Leafs: Who Has the Best Shot at an Award in the Next Few Years
Before people start getting the wrong idea about the purpose of this article, it is solely a look at the Toronto Maple Leafs system and who amongst them would be the most likely to win one of the yearly NHL awards. This is a completely hypothetical article and we have no way of determining whether any of these will win or even be nominated for an award in the future.
I decided to look at some of the more popular awards where it would be easier to find a candidate on the Leafs. Therefore awards such as the King Clancy, Masterton, Ted Lindsay, General Manager, Jack Adams, and so on were left out of my calculation.
Rocket Richard: Phil Kessel
This one would be a no-brainer when it comes to Leafs. Out of everyone on the Leafs roster as well as the prospects they have in their system Kessel is the only pure goal scorer they currently have.
Having had three consecutive 30-goal campaigns it's clear that the Leafs have their go-to guy for now and years to come, especially with the last two 30-goal years coming without a decent center passing him the puck.
Everyone seems to believe that this will be the year Kessel finally reaches the 40-goal plateau, from the looks of it, once again on his own. If Kessel were to have a legitimate number one center playing with him and chemistry developed, there is no reason he couldn't be a 50-goal scorer one day.
I see no reason why Kessel couldn't compete for the Rocket Richard Trophy as early as this year but if he were to ever win the award it wouldn't be for a few years.
Lady Byng: Mikhail Grabovski
The Lady Byng is awarded to the most skillful and gentlemanly player. Out of any player on the Leafs roster Mikhail Grabovski would be the one to fit the bill.
He has a talent level that surpasses everyone else on the Leafs roster, including Phil Kessel. He has a knack for holding on to the puck and getting out of tight areas with some nifty puck handling skills.
When Grabovski first came to the Leafs there were questions surrounding his attitude and demeanor which is why the Canadiens were relieved to be rid of him. Three years later however Grabovski has changed his attitude and is now one of the most humble players on the Leafs roster.
With his skill and new attitude, there is no reason why Grabovski could not be a Lady Byng candidate anytime soon. And if he can see another increase in his season point totals, to around 65+, there is no reason he couldn't be nominated this year.
Selke: Tyler Bozak
The Selke is awarded to the best defensive forward. While Tyler Bozak may not seem like the ideal candidate for this award, in my opinion he would be the best candidate on the Leafs.
Over the last two years Bozak has struggled by being thrust into a role he was not ready for. There was a lot of pressure on him to produce even though he barely had any NHL experience and that turned out to be too much for him.
However with the Leafs ever improving depth at the center position, Bozak will now be relied upon less by both management and fans which could enable him to thrive in all areas of his game.
Before the arrival of Dave Steckel, Bozak was the Leafs best faceoff man. He was relied upon to take those big important faceoffs and was one of the best in the league with a 54.6 percent win percentage.
He also showed significant signs of improvement in the defensive area of his game. The minus-29 rating he had last season does not do his defensive game justice. It was more of a result of putting a relatively unproven guy into a huge role with arguably the Leafs worst defensive player in Phil Kessel.
While Bozak may be still slated as the Leafs number one center with Tim Connolly's injury, he will be relied upon further into the season as the Leafs number three and shutdown guy. If Bozak can continually improve his all-round game, He could be a Selke candidate at some point in his career.
Just look at the route that last years winner Ryan Kesler took. He was a gifted offensive center as well but was relied upon to be the teams defensive guy behind the likes of Henrik Sedin and Markus Naslund. While Bozak took a different route, he has eventually gotten to the same place and I believe that he will be able to flourish with his new responsibilities.
Norris: Dion Phaneuf
Like Kessel for the Rocket Richard, Dion Phaneuf for the Norris Trophy is another no-brainer. In fact I wouldn't be surprised to see Phaneuf get back to Norris form this very year.
When Phaneuf first broke into the NHL there was a lot expected of him. He was a Canadian hero playing on arguably one of the best rosters Canada has ever sent to the world juniors. He didn't disappoint in the NHL either, being nominated for the Calder Trophy as a rookie with Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin.
He had an equally impressive sophomore year and in his third year got his first Norris nomination while scoring 17 goals and 60 points. Of course going up against Nik Lidstrom he didn't have a chance.
However in the three seasons after his nomination and the massive contract extension, Phaneuf's play has slipped, eventually leading to his trade to the Leafs. Since coming to the Leafs Phaneuf has been so-so but it's how well he played after the All-Star game last year that has people thinking he can rekindle his old form.
Put that together with the strong start he's had this season and it seems like Phaneuf is looking to regain his Norris for once again.
Vezina: James Reimer
With James Reimer being dubbed the saviour in Toronto, some fans already envision a couple of Vezina nominations in his future. The fact of the matter is it is too early to tell whether or not he will be a Vezina caliber goalie.
I myself think that James Reimer will be a great goalie for the Toronto Maple Leafs for years to come but I also think there will be some growing pains. Reimer will have some good games but there will be a lot of bad games to go with the new responsibilities he's been given.
As much as I love Reimer I just think it's illogical to think he can continually play as well as he did to end the 2010-11 season for an extended period of time. I feel that if Reimer ever gets up to Vezina standards it won't be for at least another 3-4 years, but stranger things have happened.
Goalies are probably the hardest position in hockey to judge how good they will be in the future. It's all about their technique and composure mixed with their skill and flexibility, but if goalies have the right skill they can work on their composure and technique to be the best that they can be.
Do you think that people expected Tim Thomas to be a two-time winner when he was drafted in the 9th round? Or that Ryan Miller would be a perennial 30-win goalie and Vezina nominee when he was drafted in the fifth round? And did people think that Dominik Hasek would be a 6-time Vezina winner when he was drafted in the 10th round?
You can never really know how well a goalie will perform when he is drafted. As long as a goalie has the drive and dedication there's no telling how high he might go.
Calder: Greg McKegg
When Greg Mckegg was drafted 62nd overall in the 2010 NHL entry draft it didn't take long before he became one of the Leafs top prospects. The year before he was drafted Mckegg scored 37 goals and 85 points with the Erie Otters. The following year he further improved, scoring 49 goals and 92 points finishing eighth in league scoring and tied for third in goals.
The reason I feel that Mckegg would have the best shot at winning the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie is that as of now the Leafs have an immense amount of depth in their system. Realistically I don't think that Mckegg would be in a position to make the Leafs roster for another 2-3 years. That would allow him to dominate the OHL for this season and then develop fully in the AHL for either one or two years. Once he finally gets a proper shot at a full-time roster position with the Leafs he will be beyond ready for the big show.
Just look at how the Detroit Red Wings develop their prospects. They like to keep them in junior and the AHL until they know for sure they will be able to perform in the NHL. While this may not be the Leafs mentality, I feel that in Mckegg's case it may be inevitable due to the vast amount of depth in the system.
Art Ross: Mikhail Grabovski
I know this one seems like a long shot and will probably never happen but the point of the article is to determine which players on the current roster would have the best shot. When it comes to the Art Ross for the most points scored in the league I think that out of anyone on the Leafs roster Mikhail Grabovski would have the best shot.
I know people might think that Phil Kessel would have the better shot but being a pure goal scorer, assists don't come as naturally to him as they do to someone like Grabovski. Of course Kessel has been passing the puck more in the first few games of this season, but he still likes to carry the puck and create chances for himself.
Of course if Grabovski were ever to be in a position to compete for the Art Ross he would need to see his career high practically double in order to come close. I can see Grabo becoming a perennial 30-goal scorer at some point in his career but with his skill, vision, and passing ability, along with an ever improving Leafs roster, assists will come a lot more in abundance than before.
I think Grabovski will be capable of putting 30 goals and 65+ points easily this year and if the Leafs roster can continue to get better, I wouldn't be surprised to see his point totals continually increase as well.
However if Mikhail were ever going to be in a position to compete for the Art Ross, it would not be until the Leafs were a yearly playoff team and a potential threat for the Stanley Cup. A team like that is still about 2-3 years away so we would have to wait til then to see how Grabovski will pan out.
Hart: James Reimer or Phil Kessel
The Hart Trophy is awarded to the player who is "judged most valuable to his team." I don't know if Reimer will be the real deal or even if he will be a consistent number one goalie, but the fact is if the Leafs are ever in a position to be a real threat in the league, Optimus Reim will have to be playing the best hockey he can. Inevitably he will have to be the team's best player.
Though he's still young and relatively unproven, James Reimer has been able to put up with the immense pressure thrust upon him and perform very well on top. While Reimer most likely will never get a nomination for the Hart Trophy, I feel that he will need to play that kind of caliber hockey in the future for the Leafs to be a legitimate Stanley Cup threat in the future.
In the history of the Hart Trophy only six goalies have ever won and since Jaques Plante won in the 1961-62 season only two: Dominik Hasek won twice and Jose Theodore won once.
Judging from that we can see that the odds of goalie winning the Hart Trophy are very slim but it has been done before. I don't expect Reimer to be the goalie to win this prestigious award but I feel he will have to be the Leafs MVP in order for them to come close to winning it all.
Phil Kessel on the other hand is a player who could easily be the favorite on the Leafs to win this award. Joffrey Lupul has been quoted already saying Phil Kessel is the most unique player he has ever seen. He says that most goal scorers need to be fed the puck in the right spot to put it away, but Phil is the opposite. All he needs is for someone to give him the puck in the open ice and he goes and does the rest.
From that fact alone we can see that Kessel has gotten used to carrying the heavy burden of Leafs nation all by himself, that he himself is all that is needed to get the job done.
Stars are players who can consistently play well with a good team, but the makings of a superstar are when that individual plays consistently well WHILE making the team around him better.
That is the kind of player Kessel seems to be developing into and it is those qualities that could make him the superstar that the Leafs haven't had since the days of Doug Gilmour and Mats Sundin.