Leaf fans this past week on Twitter informed me on several occasions that Toronto’s wingers are better than Montreal’s going into the 2017-18 season….so I decided to break it down to see if the truth may lie elsewhere. Here is Part 1 of a comprehensive comparison of the projected wingers on each team head-to-head. Lower-line wingers will soon follow, complete with an overall conclusion.
Pacioretty vs. van Riemsdyk – Some definite similarities – Two big 28-year-old American wingers that score as many goals as assists so are justifiably thought of as goal scorers. Not the hardest players physically for their size…both can be known to slump on occasion and have nights where they don’t achieve a lot…moreso JVR, however, as Pacioretty even when he’s slumping is a top penalty killer.
Pacioretty has scored 156 goals in the past five seasons, fifth highest goal total in the NHL in that time. JVR has battled some injuries or the goal totals would be a little closer, but Pacioretty has consistently put up 30-goal seasons (five in total) while van Riemsdyk has hit the plateau only once. Pacioretty is fifth best in goals the past five seasons and only four away from being second, so he got the edge in this matchup when you factor in his defence as well.
Conclusion – Clear edge Pacioretty
Drouin vs. Marner – Two slightly undersized wingers with tons of smarts and puck skills who were picked top four in their respective drafts. Marner obviously got off to a faster start in the NHL than Drouin as a pair of 19-year-olds with one season of junior eligibility left, but it also has to be remembered that Marner was given far more offensive opportunity/ice time on a team going into the season that had less high-end depth on the wing than Tampa did when Drouin broke in.
Nevertheless…as the stats show…Marner adapted and prospered much faster than Drouin did offensively, so he has to be given the edge in this matchup at this time. Leaf fans will think differently, but these two are closer in potential than many would think…and have very similar games. Both are terrific stickhandlers with great edges who see the ice much better than 99 per cent of the NHL’s players.
Marner may have a slight edge in playmaking ability…Drouin likely has the better shot. Drouin will be handed the offensive keys in Montreal and expect his production to spike up over 70 points this season. Marner may do the same…but he is also two years younger. I see both competing for top 20 spots in NHL scoring in the future, perhaps even top ten.
Conclusion – Edge to Marner
Galchenyuk vs. Nylander – Two former top-ten picks who had their first breakout NHL seasons at 20 years of age. Galchenyuk gets the edge in size…Nylander the decided edge in skating. Both are excellent stickandlers who can make defencemen look foolish at times, and both have solid scoring abilities. Much like the Drouin/Marner scenario, Nylander ended up with more points than Galchenyuk did at 20, but he also got more offensive opportunity, and instead of playing with a 15-goal scorer in Eller and other mediocre producers like Bourque, Nylander spent most of the season with the first-overall pick in the draft in Auston Matthews, who broke the 40-goal mark.
Galchenyuk and Nylander had similar goals totals as 20-year-olds…but Nylander managed 13 more assists…which was no surprise given the difference in linemates. Both are shrewd playmakers, and given similar linemates, both would put up similar point totals IMO. If Galchenyuk ends up playing with Drouin, expect his point totals to spike to the 60-70 range this season, and Nylander will likely get similar totals. Galchenyuk at 21 still got third-line ice time and a variety of mediocre linemates yet managed to score 30 goals…we will see if Nylander can match that this season.
Galchenyuk’s one-timer is among the league’s best…given a good setup man he can score 35-plus goals…he has a slight edge in goal-scoring ability, while Nylander may have an edge in playmaking as he is a little less selfish with the puck. So, who is better? How many points would Galchenyuk get with Matthews? Not likely any less. They are close in talent…since Nylander hit 60 points though even if it was with the Calder Trophy winner and Galchenyuk has yet to reach that mark…we will give him the edge. He may have made Matthews better too, let’s not discount that point.
Conclusion – Edge to Nylander
Gallagher vs. Marleau – Two very different players…one just hitting his prime and the other in the twilight of his career but still effective with his speed. Gallagher brings elements in his game that few do – he is an agitator who drives to the net as hard as anybody in the league…and his work ethic is second to none. He is coming off of a grotesque hand injury that severely affected his puckhandling and shooting…he tried playing through it last season and it affected his point totals.
Marleau has regressed offensively each season from 70 points in 2013-14 to 48 this past campaign, and at the age of 37 is not likely to reverse that trend. Yes, he will play with good linemates in Toronto…but in San Jose he got plenty of time with one of the top goal scorers from the past five years in Joe Pavelski and one of the all-time great playmakers in Joe Thornton…his linemate in Toronto won’t be any better. Expect 40-50 point from Marleau at his age. Two seasons ago Gallagher was on pace for 60 points as a 23-year-old (40 points in 53 games) and a strong consideration for Team Canada for the Olympics.
This past season the hand injury really hampered his production, but at 25…and fully recovered…there is no reason not to expect him to reach the 50-point mark in a second-line role. Between 21 and 23 he cracked 40 points each season even with missing games..so the potential is more than there to hit 50 as he enters his prime if healthy. Add in his tremendous character/grit/determination…he gets the edge over Marleau going forward.
Conclusion – Slight edge to Gallagher this season, bigger edge after that.
Lehkonen vs. Brown – Brown in his first full NHL season at 22-23 impressed many by snaring an offensive role with the Leafs and scoring 20 goals in 82 games. Lehkonen surprised Habs fans by making the team out of training camp and by season’s end was as prolific a goal scorer as any on the team. Where the edge goes to Lehkonen is that…as an NHL rookie at just 21…his game only improved as the season went on as he gained confidence and was given more opportunity.
Lehkonen, still only 21 at the time, ended the season with six goals in his final ten games. Comparatively…Brown, who at the time had turned 23, had five goals in his last 22 contests, and that’s with better linemates as well as he got lots of time with Matthews. Continuing that into the playoffs, Lehkonen had two goals in six games while Brown failed to score. So…eight goals for Lehkonen in his last 16 games when it most counted….five goals for Brown his last 28 games.
The season before Lehkonen was the leading scorer and MVP in the SHL playoffs at the tender age of 20…he shows up for big games, is already excellent defensively and is very much on the upward curve. Brown was a sixth-round pick…Lehkonen was a second-rounder…it was expected that Artie would be better…and all signs point towards that being the case.
Conclusion – Clear edge to Lehkonen
Keep an eye open for Part 2 later today.