The start of the NHL season is just around the corner as the Toronto Maple Leafs are already three games into their preseason.
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Some may say that the preseason is meaningless hockey. That could not be further from the truth. Players are currently battling for roster spots and to prove that if they had a bad season, they can put it behind them and find success once again. The Maple Leafs have a number of players that have come into camp looking to make a statement and an impact once the season starts.
Here are five players that have stood out early on in the preseason that are making a significant impact with their audition.
Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov
The goaltending was going to be the biggest question mark heading into the season as general manager Kyle Dubas was taking a big gamble on two goaltenders looking to prove something. While it’s only three games into the preseason, the play of Murray and Samsonov is standing out as the tandem could provide a steady presence in net.
Both Samsonov and Murray didn’t allow a goal at five-on-five in their games against the Ottawa Senators or Montreal Canadiens. At all strengths, they both made 16 saves, showed great composure, mobility and the vision to track the puck very well in the crease. While Murray didn’t face as many high danger chances against in his start, Samsonov made 10 high danger saves in his outing, showing that he didn’t panic when facing tough chances.
Even though it’s a small sample, it’s great to see the goalies have this kind of start after facing a lot of scrutiny before they even played a game. While they need to play more and see tougher opponents when the season starts, it’s a great sign that they’re starting to find some success early on as it can carry over into the regular season.
This is the kind of goaltending tandem the Maple Leafs have lacked for some time. If they can be this consistent throughout the season, they will silence the critics.
I was a big fan of the Jarnkrok signing and we’re starting to see why bringing in another utility knife player could be a good thing for the Maple Leafs. He’s got great speed and IQ that you can put him anywhere in the lineup and he will thrive. He played extremely well when playing alongside Auston Matthews and Michael Bunting, scoring two really nice goals against the Senators. Postgame, both head coach Sheldon Keefe and Bunting had high praise for Jarnkrok.
While he had a good debut on the top line, it was his play against the Canadiens that was even more impressive. When the Maple Leafs were down Jordie Benn and Carl Dahlstrom due to injury, Jarnkrok stepped up to play defense and did a great job doing so. He displayed his defensive awareness– although shaky at times given the position he was in– while still taking his chances to join the attack in the offensive zone. If they’re faced with this situation again in the future, Jarnrkok can be a strong replacement option given his ability to play strong defense.
The Maple Leafs needed some depth players at cheap contracts to come in and provide a strong presence overall. They’re already reaping the benefits with Jarnkrok’s all-around play. He’s able to chip in offensively, while still being a defensive-minded player with great positioning and vision. He’s going to be an important part of the team’s forward unit as he can move up and down the lineup.
Fans weren’t happy with the Mason Marchment trade that brought Malgin in, especially that Malgin’s first stint with the Maple Leafs didn’t go so well as he was pointless in eight games. After being on loan and recording 94 points in two seasons in the Swiss league and a strong 2022 World Championship, Malgin has already left an impression on Keefe with his work ethic.
Malgin had instant chemistry with William Nylander in his first game, scoring a goal off a great pass from him against the Senators. His shot was on display, scoring another great goal and adding an assist against the Canadiens. Malgin’s numbers have been impressive as he’s a real factor at 5v5. He owns the fourth best Corsi For percentage of 60.53 and seventh best scoring chances for percentage of 63.16. In addition, he has not been on for a goal against. Yes, it’s still preseason, but for players like Malgin who are looking to make their mark, it’s play and production like this that’s going to earn him a roster spot.
Despite being undersized at 5-foot-9, that hasn’t been a hinderance for Malgin as he’s been able to still protect the puck extremely well and has great playmaking abilities. His speed to generate off the rush and come out of battles is what’s making him successful as well. Something that the Maple Leafs could use in the top-six.
Having a rejuvenated and more confident Malgin could benefit the Maple Leafs and the top-six as they look for more compete and speed.
Ever since his performance at the rookie tournament earlier in the month, I had a feeling that Steeves was going to go into camp on a mission to battle for a roster spot. It looks like I was onto something as Steeves has been an absolute treat to watch.
Steeves has displayed the speed, energy, work ethic and ability to play in all situations as a reliable bottom-six forward. In two games played, he has two goals and one assist, but his underlying numbers at 5v5 standout when he’s on the ice. He has the second-best expected goals for percentage of 80.41 and the sixth-best SCF% of 66.67.
That’s great production offensively while still being a two-way threat on both sides of the puck. His speed has allowed him to break free from opponents and hunt down loose pucks while also showing the ability to battle hard in the corners and along the boards. He has stated that this is one aspect that he wanted to improve and it’s showing in the preseason.
Steeves has showcased something the Maple Leafs have lacked for some time in their bottom-six– a high level of compete. They lacked that aspect last season and if Steeves is able to earn a spot in a fourth line role, hopefully he will bring an abundance of that every time he’s on the ice.
Who has stood out for you in the preseason? Have your say in the comment section.
Statistics from Natural Stat Trick.
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Peter is in his third year with The Hockey Writers, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs and heading the Draft and Prospects section. He has previously interned at The Hockey News and worked on Toronto Marlies broadcasts for Rogers TV. He currently is the co-host of the podcast Sticks in the 6ix and a frequent guest on Maple Leafs Lounge. Aside from hockey, he also enjoys drumming, animation and impressions/ voices.