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We are officially in the dog days of the NHL offseason, and for fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs, things have been extremely quiet. Many members of Leafs Nation are awaiting any news on either Auston Matthews or William Nylander’s contract extensions; unfortunately, there hasn’t been any.

As a result, we turn our attention to other areas of interest, like the Maple Leafs’ players who could be candidates for NHL Awards in the 2023–24 season.

Auston Matthews Could Reclaim the Rocket

Matthews is entering the last year of his current deal with the Maple Leafs, and while we await news on his new contract, we will take a look at how he can have a bounce-back year and reclaim the Rocket Richard Trophy. He is coming off a season where he scored 40 goals, which is by no means bad, but when he scored 60 goals in 2021–22, it appeared to many that it was a down year. Unfortunately for Matthews, last season also saw the rise of Connor McDavid in the goal category, who scored 64 goals, which means he has a lot more competition to win the Rocket than he did before.

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Almost every NHL player takes the approach that a new season means a fresh slate, which is exactly what Matthews needs to do. The best thing that can happen to a goal scorer is to go on a hot streak as early as possible, not only to build a lead in the scoring race but also to improve the player’s psyche throughout an 82-game season. Matthews oftentimes can score in bunches when he is feeling it, so if he and his teammates can find chemistry early on, he could easily score 60 goals again.

Matthew Knies for Calder

Matthew Knies had an amazing start to his NHL career in the 2023 postseason with the Maple Leafs. He collected four points in seven games before getting injured and missing the rest of the second round. He is entering his rookie season in 2023–24, which has many members of Leafs Nation very excited. Unfortunately for him, he is in one of the deepest Calder Trophy races in NHL history. He is going up against the likes of Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli, and Luke Hughes, among many more. Some could argue that Bedard will win hands down, but it isn’t a guarantee. Knies will most likely be seeing top-six minutes on the Maple Leafs this season, playing alongside Mitch Marner and John Tavares, which gives him the chance to contribute on the score sheet.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Knies Poised for Impactful Rookie Season

Knies has great potential in the NHL, which will be fully displayed this season. He comes into a pressure cooker in Toronto for an entire 82-game season, plus playoffs if the Maple Leafs can clinch a playoff berth again in 2023–24. With that said, he has gained some experience during his time with the club in the playoffs; however, he needs to adjust quickly to the media and all the other pressures that come with the Maple Leafs. Eighty-two games is a long season, and if he wants a chance at winning the Calder Trophy, he needs to work hard and believe in himself because there will be times when the fan base bashes him to the point he will start to let it affect his play on the ice.

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The benefit Knies has is that one of his potential linemates, Marner, is a hometown kid who gets scrutinized a ton in the media. As for Tavares, he is also a hometown kid, as well as the team captain, and with his $11 million contract, he never hears the end of the comments. Ultimately, though, both players are top-notch professionals who can teach him how to deal with the pressures of the Toronto market. If Knies can play to the best of his abilities and that line can produce, he could see himself getting 60 points in his rookie season. Although he may come up a bit short in the Calder race, that is still a very impressive rookie campaign.

Marner Could Finally Win Selke

Can Marner finally win the Selke Trophy? Well, there’s a serious chance this year, and the reason behind that is due to Patrice Bergeron hanging up the skates. The Selke Trophy is given to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game. Marner has seen his name in the top five for voting for the award, but it was always a lock that Bergeron was going to win it. However, with him officially retiring, the trophy is now open for the taking, with some serious competition to win it. Marner finished third behind New Jersey Devils’ captain Nico Hischier, who finished second in the voting. The voting list also saw the likes of Carolina Hurricanes’ captain Jordan Staal (fourth) and Los Angeles Kings captain Anze Kopitar (fifth), all of whom should be back in the running for the award this season.

Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs
Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Now, Marner did finish third in the 2023 voting, but he could make a case for himself to take the trophy home this season. He will most likely be playing on the second line alongside Tavares and either Knies or Max Domi, where his defensive responsibility will be drastically increased. He will still need to be an elite defensive forward to be put into consideration for the award, which he typically is, but he is going up against centers who have more responsibility on both ends of the ice, to begin with. This is why Marner needs to utilize his penalty-killing time to stand out as an elite defensive forward who excels at the defensive aspects of the game in an attempt to win the Selke.

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Only time will tell what happens this season and who wins what awards. However, it is nice to be able to think about what Maple Leafs players can find themselves in the running for them. Ultimately, though, the best award to win is the Stanley Cup, which will be the first thing all three of these players will say if asked which one they would like to compete for this season.

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