Let’s talk about the controversial first line winger for the Toronto Maple Leafs – Zach Babcock…err I mean Hyman. There are three things that immediately come to mind when I think about this player. Hard work, good pro, stone hands. Since Zach has made a permanent spot on the Leafs, he has been stapled to the left side of our star center Auston Matthews. When I say stapled, I mean Auston has literally never started an NHL game without Hyman as his left winger. I remember the day the leafs signed prized free agent Patrick Marleau, and thought “Wow he is going to look great on our first line with Matthews and Nylander!”. Fast forward to the season opener, and there is Zach Hyman back on our first line. It’s no secret Babcock loves his meat and potato hard working players (see Dan Cleary in Detroit) but doesn’t a part of you wonder if Babcock is truly maximizing his rosters potential?
Let’s look at some stats. Some might actually surprise you! Currently Zach Hyman is sporting a 34 points through 70 games. This is only a .48 points per game average. Not great right? But wait! Let’s remember Hyman gets virtually zero power play time. All his accumulated points come at even strength or short-handed. So that made me wonder – how does his point totals compare when we remove power play points? Hyman’s 32 even strength points is shockingly tied for fourth place on the Leafs, with only the “big 3” Matthews, Marner and Nylander ahead of him.
This begs the question, is Hyman actually better offensively than we all thought? He is clearly producing on a 5v5 level which is all you can really ask. Having said that, I truly believe these numbers are quite inflated as a product of playing with two offensive stars. Since Matthews recent injury in which he’s missed 7 games, Hyman has only recorded a whopping 2 goals and 0 assists. This proves the point that although he’s been doing fine with Matthews, without him he’s likely a bottom 6 player. The man will recklessly skate full speed into a corner to get a puck, but I can’t count the amount of times the puck has died on his stick. Babcock has said before that he does not load all his offensive weapons on one line because there is not enough puck to go around. Fair point. Balanced scoring lines has worked amazingly so far and the Leafs are sitting comfortably in a playoff position. But then I see what Boston has done with loading up Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak and think about what could have been possible with Marleau or JVR on the top line.
At the end of the day, Hyman is a very useful player who coaches love because he competes hard, forechecks, and is responsible defensively. I think I was a little too hard him last year and the beginning of this one. But please Mike, would it kill you to throw him on the third line and try replacing him with a skilled winger?