In our series of articles ranking the play of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ players using five-on-five, on-ice stats tracked by naturalstattrick, we are going today to look at the defensive play of the top twelve Maple Leafs’ forwards in the 2021-22 regular season. We will be ranking them in Shot-Attempts Against, Shots Against, Scoring-Chances Against, High-Danger Chances Against, Goals Against, and Expected-Goals Against, and then give them an overall ranking for defensive play.
Keep in mind that these statistics do not take into account the quality of competition or the quality of a player’s line-mates. A fourth-line player putting up better numbers than a first-line forward does not mean that player is better. It might mean the fourth-line player did a better job in the role given to him by the coach. We also want to add that we don’t feel ranking the players by these statistics is the only way to rate a player’s performance. It’s only one of many available tools.
Shot Attempts Against per 60 Minutes Played
Shots Against per 60
Related: Notable NHL Captains Who Got Traded
Scoring Chances Against per 60
High Danger Chances Against per 60
|Rank||Player||High-Danger Chances Against|
Goals Against per 60
Expected-Goals Against per 60
Overall Ranking For Defense By Forwards
It might be a surprise to some fans to see Ilya Mikheyev come out on top of the rankings for defensive play by a forward for the Maple Leafs. It’s something we might not have noticed using the eye test. We notice his play with the puck and the things he does well offensively.
How a player performs without the puck is not always that noticeable. Mikheyev was first in four of the six categories.
A second-place ranking for defensive play of all of the Maple Leafs’ forwards shows the maturation of Auston Matthews and how his 200-foot game has improved. This finding aligns with Matthews being a finalist for the Selke Trophy, which is awarded annually “to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.”
This finding is more support that Matthews is not only the best player on the Maple Leafs but truly one of the NHL’s elite players.
Pierre Engvall ranking third defensively for Maple Leafs’ forward comes as no surprise to us. Head coach Sheldon Keefe has praised Engvall for his defensive play numerous times over the past two seasons. It’s interesting to note that his third-place finish is actually a slip. He was number one in the defensive rankings for Maple Leafs’ forwards last season.
David Kampf is the third member of Keefe’s most often used “shutdown” line along with Mikheyev and Engvall. The fact that all three of these players rank in the top four shows how successful they are in shutting down opposing players. They’re also not just your typical bottom-six line as they play a lot of minutes against the opposing team’s top players.
With the exception of Goals Against, Marner’s numbers are much the same as last season. He slipped a little in the rankings this season because of the improvement of Mikheyev and the addition of Kampf.
Michael Bunting’s sixth-place ranking confirms that he’s a top-six forward on this team as well as a member of the undisputed number one line.
As with his offensive rank, we have to admit Jason Spezza’s seventh-place defensive rank is pretty good for a player that has decided to retire.
Ondrej Kase’s eighth-place rank in defensive play is better than his 10th-place rank in offensive play. Overall, it makes us wonder if maybe his numbers don’t match the eye test in regard to his effectiveness.
When we saw that Alex Kerfoot’s offensive numbers were much lower than Tavares’ and Nylander’s, we wondered if his defensive numbers would make up for it. We now see that his average ranking in the six categories of 8.8 is indeed higher than Nylander’s 9.7 and Tavares’ 11.0
Simmonds ranked 11th in offense and 10th in defense. That’s unfortunately not a very good combination.
William Nylander and John Tavares
We’re going to talk about these two players together. They ranked together fourth and fifth for offensive stats. Here they are together again; however, they rank a miserable 11th and 12th in defensive stats.
Putting up good offensive numbers is great, but if a player gives it all back in defense it’s not so great. This is the reason why they’re a combined -17 despite scoring a combined total of 156 points. These defensive numbers have to be an area of concern for Sheldon Keefe.
Kyle Clifford and Colin Blackwell
As with the offensive numbers, we did not include Kyle Clifford or Colin Blackwell in the defensive rankings. We did track their numbers, however. If we would have included them, Clifford would have finished just ahead of Tavares and behind Nylander. Blackwell’s stats would have placed him below Tavares.
In our next post, we’ll combine the offensive and defensive rankings to see how each of the top twelve forwards rank overall for the Maple Leafs.
[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf