Zach Hyman is growing into his top line role

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    After all the flak that Zack Hyman took over the summer for his desirable spot on the top line with Matthews and Nylander, he’s come out of the gates flying this year. Much of the fanbase, myself included, had some version of the comments below:

    • Great in the corners and at keeping the puck in
    • “Stone hands” – he needs to convert on more chances to keep a top line spot
    • It would make more sense to play another high-skill player to finish the plays created by Matthews and Nylander
    • Hyman would be a great fit for a checking line

    After watching the Leafs first few games (yowza), everything Hyman has done has completely quelled my criticisms. As always, he’s been great as the first man in, getting to the puck on the forecheck, and breaking up opponents’ breakout attempts. He has continued to excel at making the greasy plays that have endeared him to Mike Babcock, like this hard-fought goal against the Rangers:

    What has impressed me most is the second gear that Hyman has shown on the rush, especially in the Leafs’ last two wins over Chicago and New York. Against Chicago, Hyman caught a great pass in stride through the neutral zone and split two of the league’s premier (depending on who you ask) defencemen in Keith and Seabrook:

    I can cut Keith and Seabrook a bit of slack here because they also had Matthews, Nylander and Morgan Rielly barreling down at them full-tilt, but wow does Hyman ever look good here. I don’t remember him looking that fast and smooth very often last year – maybe he put in a lot of skating work this summer, or maybe I was too busy gushing about how great the trio’s skating is. Either way, I’ve been very impressed by his skating already.

    Another aspect that has looked excellent is his awareness in the offensive zone. Hyman had an amazing second effort on this goal against the Rangers:

    Very similar to his rush against Chicago, Hyman corrals a pass with speed and catches the New York defenders flat-footed. He splits the D, breaks in on Lundqvist, goes inside-outside and tries to tuck it in on the backhand. A few seconds after, he catches a deflected breakout pass and holds it, waiting out The King for his first of two goals on the night. Side note: Nylander’s neutral zone pass on this play was SUBLIME.

    Hyman showed more of this awareness on Monday night by faking a reception of Matthews’ cross ice pass. He effectively draws Seabrook in, pulling him into the slot for just long enough to open up a chance for Borgman.

    So far, Hyman and his linemates (really the whole team) have been out to a great start. He has 2 goals through 3 games, and his line has controlled play at even strength, all while logging over four minutes per night on the penalty kill (stats from NHL.com and Corsica).

    Goals Assists ES TOI PP TOI PK TOI ES Corsi% ES xG%
    2 0 11:11 0:23 4:03 58.5 74.86

    Several great hockey writers from The Athletic have already written about their high expectations for Hyman this year, and so far they’ve been right on the money. When it comes to Hyman, it looks like Babs knows best – I’m sold on him staying on the top line and think he’s going to have a great year.