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As mentioned multiple times this summer, there are a countless amount of questions hanging over the Toronto Maple Leafs heading into the 2011-2012 season.
While it is impossible to come up with answers to these questions right now based on the sole fact that every one of the answers can only be found over time, it is possible to predict the outcome.
Phil Kessel, James Reimer, and Tim Connolly are three players who just might have the biggest questions surrounding them. However, they are not the only ones, with Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin and others buried in uncertainty as well.
Now let’s take a look at some of these questions and try to get to the bottom of them.
Will Phil Kessel be able to reach 40 goals?
For Kessel it is mainly a matter of whether Connolly remains healthy or if he finds himself sitting out once again do to injury. If Connolly does stay healthy Kessel, a three-time 30-goal scorer, will probably be able to reach 35-40 goals.
Fortunately the Leafs have confidence in Connolly’s health.
Will Mikhail Grabovski score 30 goals?
Last season Grabovski became a solid scoring centre for the Leafs. With 29 goals he just about gave the Leafs three 30-goal scorers and with a total of 29 assists he finished third on the team in points with 58.
At 27 years of age many would argue that Grabovski is done developing. While that may be true, he certainly isn’t done maturing. Over the last two seasons Grabovski’s plus/minus rating has improved so much that he is now a career plus-3 after going minus-12 in his first two seasons.
He finished one goal short last season, has a better supporting cast this season, and isn’t done maturing. What makes you think he can’t get that extra marker?
Will Nikolai Kulemin be able to repeat his success from last season?
Kulemin finished just one spot ahead of Grabovski in goals last season with 30. The 25-year-old improved so much that he blew his previous career highs in goals, assists, and points out of the water by 14, seven, and 21 respectively.
He also learned how to use his size and shot to his advantage by not only driving to the net and picking up some rough goals, but also by sniping a few.
Playing on a line with at least one player who is expected to reach 30 goals (Grabovski), don’t be surprised to see Kulemin reach the same mark for a second straight season.
Will James Reimer remain a top-tier goalie?
Reimer played his first career game on New Year’s Day 2011, a 5-1 win against the Ottawa Senators in which he made 32 saves. He didn’t look back from there, finishing 20-10-5 with a goals against average of 2.60 and a save percentage of .921.
With the right attitude, some off-season training and now the No. 1 job, there is no reason to think that Reimer won’t put up the same numbers he did last season.
Who will the Leafs’ third and fourth centres be?
It’s quite obvious who the Leafs’ first and second line centres will be going into the season: Connolly and Grabovski.
However, what isn’t so obvious is who will man the bottom two centre positions.
Matthew Lombardi is a nice addition who could take on the role of third line centre but some are questioning whether he will be ready to start the season.
If not it will almost certainly be Tyler Bozak taking his spot with Philippe Dupuis playing on the fourth line. If Lombardi is ready expect him and Bozak to go 3, 4.
Will Joffrey Lupul return to his old form?
Lupul came to Toronto after playing in 26 games with the Anaheim Ducks following back surgery. He struggled in those 26 games, as well as the first little bit during his time in Toronto, but managed to pick things up near the end. He finished the season with 14 goals and 17 assists in 54 games.
However, there are reasons to believe that Lupul will return to his 20-goal self. We saw him drive the net, pull a few finesse moves and grind things out; all three of which are attributes that are needed from a 20-goal scorer.
Will Clarke MacArthur continue to be a solid second line winger?
Like Kulemin, MacArthur set new career highs last season that made his previous highs look like minor league numbers. But will he be able to continue that success?
It’s tough to say seeing as though MacArthur is someone who has been known as a third-line player ever since he entered the NHL.
Don’t expect the Lloydminster, Alberta native to reach the 62-point plateau again although he could score as many as 50 points.
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