Nobody captures the evolution of the NHL from style of play to roster construction quite like the Toronto Maple Leafs.
With their win over the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday, they positioned themselves in third place in the Atlantic Division, just two points out of second and coming on strong. They’re doing it without their best defenseman Morgan Rielly, out with a lower-body injury. They’re doing it with a group of rookies unlike any the NHL has seen.
Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner lead all rookies with 39 points each. William Nylander is No. 5 in rookie scoring. Connor Brown, Zach Hyman and defenseman Nikita Zaitsev give the Leafs three more in the top 15.
With another goal on Wednesday, Matthews has 23 goals to lead the team. He’s No. 4 in the NHL overall. His 20 even-strength goals is tops in the league (tied with Michael Grabner), and yes, that's ahead of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin.
A roster like this never would have existed in the league five or 10 years ago. Certainly not under a guy like Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello.