The Toronto Maple Leafs will have a huge hole in their lineup going forward. Star center Auston Matthews is going to miss at least three weeks after suffering a knee sprain Wednesday.
Matthews is one of the best players not only on the Maple Leafs but in all of the NHL. He is the defending Hart Trophy Winner as league MVP, and currently has 53 points in 47 games.
The Maple Leafs have three games remaining before the NHL All-Star Break. After that break, the team has a relatively light schedule. The first team they play after the All-Star Break that currently holds a playoff spot is the Minnesota Wild on February 24.
In any event, the team is missing their best forward. And it doesn’t matter how good your team is, losing your best player hurts. So with no further ado, here are two Maple Leafs players who need to step in the wake of Auston Matthews’ injury.
2) Caille Jarnkrok
With Matthews out, Jarnkrok will play with a different center on the second line. John Tavares moves to the first line, meaning Pontus Holmberg will center the second line.
Holmberg is a 23-year-old rookie who is seeing his first time on the top six. The other winger on the line, William Nylander, leads the team in goals and points this season.
This leaves Jarnkrok, who isn’t having a bad season, perse. He has 11 goals and 23 points in 43 games in 2o22-23. However, the Maple Leafs will need more out of him in the absence of their superstar.
If Jarnkrok can find more of a scoring touch, the Maple Leafs can better weather this storm. A schedule that includes two games against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Chicago Blackhawks respectively should put him in a position to step up on the scorer’s sheet.
1) John Tavares
As mentioned before, Tavares is now centering Toronto’s top line. He will have Michael Bunting and Mitch Marner on his wings, giving Toronto a reliable scoring combination of Tavares and Marner.
And Tavares is having a good season in his own right. The Maple Leafs star has 21 goals and 47 points in 49 games so far this season. If there is anyone that can step up and replace the production lost by Matthews, it’s Tavares.
Tavares joined the Maple Leafs back in 2018, signing a seven-year $77 million contract. The 32-year-old returned to his hometown team in order to help them win the Stanley Cup.
However, the Leafs still have yet to win a playoff round with Tavares. One of these rounds saw him suffer a nasty head injury against the Montreal Canadiens in 2021.
The Maple Leafs need Tavares to step up now and in the future. The 32-year-old is the captain of the Maple Leafs, and he needs fulfill that responsibility as a player and a leader.
The Maple Leafs have an easy schedule coming up, but this is not the time to take opponents lightly. Toronto has had issues in the past where they’ve lost games against inferior opponents. A recent example being their 6-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Friday night.
Without Matthews, the Maple Leafs need to keep their focus. Outside of the coaching staff, Tavares is the one who needs to instill that focus into the rest of the Maple Leafs roster.
Whether Matthews misses three weeks or more, Tavares has to continue to anchor Toronto’s top line and lead by example in the locker room. Only time will tell if he answers the call.