There’s always been an interesting debate about William Nylander and Mitch Marner. Each player carries such a threat in the offensive zone and both arguably deserve to be on the top line with Auston Matthews. However, with only one spot on the right-wing, it makes this discussion much more difficult.
Whenever either of the players isn’t producing, fans usually suggest switching the wingers up. Sheldon Keefe doesn’t do it often, but we did see glimpses of Nylander with Matthews and Marner with John Tavares last season.
A lot of us tend to look back at the debut season of Tavares where he scored 47 goals with Marner on his wing. Both had career years that season and haven’t gotten near those totals since. It was obvious for Keefe once he came in that Marner could produce at a much better rate on Matthews’ wing.
Tavares’ first season was unbelievable but matching that is quite unlikely. Evidently, it would make much more sense to take the most effective playmaker and put him with the NHL’s top goal-scorer.
Last year, Marner assisted on 25 of Matthews’ 41 goals which is almost 61%. Looking back on Tavares’ first season in Toronto, Marner assisted on 26 of his 47 goals — a 55% total. The right-winger produced at five percentage points better with Matthews than Tavares, which makes it clear who’s wing he should play on.
Nylander and Marner both share the same G/PG at 0.29 throughout their career, which means that neither one has a better goal-scoring rate. If one of them did, you could argue another point as to why one should be on the top line.
I believe that Marner should stay with Matthews because of last year’s results, as well as what’s happened in seasons prior. Obviously, that doesn’t mean Keefe should be afraid to switch that up if they’re not getting results. The post-season, especially, is very much about line matching and switching changing things when needed.
We didn’t see much of that in last year’s series against Montreal.
There’s always an interest to me in seeing if Tavares can re-create his first season in Toronto. Clearly, that would mean returning Marner to his wing, but that would also see Nylander head back to Matthews’ line. I don’t think that happens, however, it’s always a possibility.
The last time the Swedish-winger spent a full season with Matthews was back in the 2017-18 season. During that time, Nylander assisted on 19 of the American’s 34 goals which is a 55% total. That’s the exact percentage that Marner had with Tavares in his first season with the Maple Leafs.
So, again, Marner has had a better rate of success in helping Matthews score goals.
Whichever line these two play on, they’re effective. The hardest part is getting both lines to produce at the same time. There are going to be points where one line goes cold, and that’s okay. It’s really just about trying to make sure the two top lines are productive in the playoffs because, during the last few, they haven’t been.
It may be wise to also discuss the opportunity next season to put all three of Matthews, Marner and Nylander collectively on one line. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea and would be curious to see how the three could play together. The reason I don’t include Tavares there is because he had two more goals than Nylander, who played five fewer games.
On one hand, if you slot Nylander on the left wing, Marner could set him up with one-timers while still helping Matthews score too. On the other hand, that wouldn’t be smart because you’d prefer to spread the wealth between two units. But, if there’s a point where you need something from the players, it could be interesting to see what the three can do together.
For now, though, with the way Marner can play, it would make sense to play him with Matthews. Again, if there’s a point where both of these lines go cold, Keefe needs to change things up as best as he can. This could be the last shot for this core to go for it, so they better make every game count.
(All stats used are from NaturalStatTrick.com and Stathead.com)