The last time the Toronto Maple Leafs had a player scoring like this it was the high-flying early ’90s and everything seemed possible for Doug Gilmour, Wendel Clark and Co.
That it’s John Tavares helping make believers out of Leafs Nation again is a major coup for an organization which set aside big bucks and significant cap space to bring him home over the summer.
Tavares had already proven himself as one of the better goal-scorers of his generation during nine seasons in Long Island. But after half a year in Toronto, where he’s scored 29 times in 43 games, he’s building a case to have this considered one of the best seasons by a free-agent signing in NHL history.
“He’s done nothing but impress me,” defenceman Travis Dermott said after Thursday’s 4-2 win over New Jersey.
The impact Tavares has on the organization runs much deeper than goals, but the Leafs aren’t paying him $11 million per season for intangibles. That’s why his production has been so important during a 28-13-2 start — the NHL’s second-best record by percentage of points earned.
Against the Devils, Tavares scored two more times and now trails only Washington’s Alex Ovechkin in that department league-wide. He’d never potted more than 38 in nine seasons as a member of the Islanders and is now on pace for 55.
What stands out is that he’s producing more shots on goal than ever before, averaging 3.79 per game after putting six more on Devils goalie Keith Kinkaid.
“I just try to go out there and be as best prepared, be as consistent as I can be,” said Tavares. “You know, try to be just hard to defend. Find different ways to produce, not just in certain situations, whether it’s around the net, off the cycle, on the rush, on the power play.