It’s the offseason for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but that doesn’t mean that the club isn’t busy preparing for next year. They still have their American Hockey League affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, battling in the second round of the Calder Cup playoffs.
Overseas, the Leafs have two prominent players in Mitch Marner and William Nylander, playing for their respective countries at the World Championships.
The club is also preparing for two major June events. The first is an expansion draft to get the Las Vegas Golden Knights off the ground, which will be followed by the annual NHL Entry Draft, where the next generation of players will be selected.
The Leafs had tremendous success this past year. With the club on the rise, it’s time to ask one of the most important questions they will face. What is considered a successful year for the 2017-18 season?
Adding Some Defensemen
The Leafs want to capitalize on their success of this past year. They made it to the playoffs and took the Washington Capitals all the way to six games.
In order to be competitive once again, the biggest thing they need to do is shore up their blueline. Early on in the season, the team had an unfortunate problem where they continually blew leads.
This resulted in potential wins going to extra time or the shootout, where the Leafs woes were extremely well documented.
The Leafs finished the year 22nd in goals against, letting in on average, 2.85 per game. They were also 28th in shots against per game, leaving Frederik Andersen to deal with an average of 32 shots every contest.
These are numbers that can be fixed by tweaking their defense. There are many different avenues to explore in this regard, ranging from free agent signings to developing their own prospects.
Some names that have been circulating include unrestricted free agents like Karl Alzner, Michael Stone or Cody Franson. There’s also the trade targets, such as Josh Manson of the Ducks or Chris Tanev of the Canucks.
Drafting a defenseman with the 17th overall pick, is also a good move, maybe not for next year, but for the immediate future. Top players like Cal Foote, Erik Brannstrom, and Nicolas Hague are all slated to be available around the Leafs spot. There are also players on the aforementioned Marlies.
Continuing Progression of Prospects
In order for the Leafs to have a successful 2017-18 season, fans will need to see that the team’s prospects are all developing at the appropriate rate.
The Marlies of the last few years have been instrumental in helping young players graduate to the pros. This past year saw Connor Brown, Zach Hyman, William Nylander, Nikita Soshnikov, Connor Carrick, Josh Leivo, Frederik Gauthier and Kasperi Kapanen all suit up for the big club at one time or another.
Most of these names were NHL regulars, proving just how valuable their AHL development was. The next generation will need to start to try and make the jump to the pros.
Lou said there are a couple defenders in the minors they're going to take a good look at – "one in particular"
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) May 2, 2017
One player who has a chance of making the team is Travis Dermott. The former Erie Otter has been the Marlies best defenseman and is a reliable presence all over the ice. Kapanen should also make the team out of training camp and his play in the final regular season games, plus his playoff heroics, lead us to believe he is ready to take the next step.
Beyond the Marlies, we look at the Leafs’ prospects in lower leagues. This means keeping a close eye on Adam Brooks, Jeremy Bracco, and Joseph Woll as they continue to push their way towards an NHL spot in the near future.
Drafting and developing your own talent is key to the success of a franchise. The Leafs neglected this aspect for far too long, but now appear to finally be on the right track.
Making the postseason this year was an absolute treat for fans of the Leafs. It was supposed to be a rebuilding year that would see the team in contention for a lottery spot and a young prospect for the future.
Instead, the Leafs flipped the script and produced some magic. They were able to string together enough points to secure themselves the second wild card spot. They faced the Washington Capitals, a team that was recently coming off of another President’s Trophy.
They lost, but not before giving the Capitals an amazing series that lasted for six games and saw five of the contests head to overtime.
For the Leafs to have a successful 2017-18 season, making the playoffs again is all but essential. This is not an easy thing to achieve, however. The Buds were extremely fortunate to avoid the injury bug for most of the season.
A long-term injury to a key player might have lasting consequences, especially if the Leafs aren’t prepared depth wise.
Teams will also be better next year. Expect the Tampa Bay Lighting to bounce back, as well as clubs like the Philadephia Flyers and Buffalo Sabres. Competition for a spot will only get tougher.
In a perfect world, the club would make the playoffs and win at least one round. It would show growth and give the team experience as they prepare to become contenders down the line.