It’s Halloween, and the Toronto Maple Leafs are not messing around this year. On Monday, the team announced that forward Auston Matthews will miss at least four weeks with a shoulder injury. It’s the biggest scare that any Maple Leafs fan could’ve received this October. But there’s always a little bit of light on even the darkest of days. Here are three Maple Leafs players to watch as candidates to step up in Matthews’ absence.
RELATED: Matthews Out at Least Four Weeks
Kadri – The Obvious One
Whether it’s through the eye test or numbers, Nazem Kadri has been one of the Leafs’ best forwards this season. The former seventh overall pick has been snake-bitten this season, posting six points (2 goals, 4 assists) in 11 games, playing just 16:07 a night while centering the team’s third line, but all of that is about to change.
Kadri was reunited with his linemates from last year, Mitch Marner and Patrick Marleau after Matthews was forced to leave the game against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday. And they looked really good. Kadri scored the opener for the Leafs in the third period to ignite their three-goal comeback. The goal came after Marner made a nice play behind the net to find the former London Knight wide-open in front for his second goal in as many games. It looks like the Leafs will keep that line together for the game Monday versus the Calgary Flames:
#Leafs lines at morning skate (vs. Calgary tonight):
No extra forward present as of yet
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) October 29, 2018
Kadri excels when he’s challenged. Remember that overtime winner versus Connor McDavid? He has a unique gear that he finds when faced with adversity; he’s a competitor. Look for him to excel offensively alongside the team’s best playmaker (he could make for a great fantasy target!).
When in Doubt, Freddy’s Here
When in doubt, the Maple Leafs always have Frederick Andersen, and for the first time in his Maple Leafs tenure, he will finish October with a save percentage (SV%) higher than .900 – he enters Monday’s game with a .916 SV%. It’s no coincidence that this is the first season that he entered training camp healthy as a Maple Leaf. This is music to the ears of Leafs fans because, throughout his career, the team’s number one goaltender has improved during the season.
In November, Andersen boasts a .921 career SV% compared to his .913 in October. He then elevates that by posting an incredible .925 and .923 career SV% in December and January respectively. It won’t be easy for the Leafs to replace the team’s leading point-scorer and best player, so look for the Leafs to rely heavily on Andersen to carry the workload while Matthews is sidelined.
The Flier – No Pun Intended
My flier pick also flies. Speedy winger Andreas Johnsson is off to a very slow start after ending last season on such a positive note. The reigning Calder Cup playoff MVP has struggled to get into the lineup, posting just one assist in six games playing only 8:43 a night on the team’s fourth line after a strong showing in last year’s playoffs, in the AHL and NHL.
Johnsson is on this list not because he was the odd-man out while Matthews was playing, but because, of the bottom six Maple Leafs forwards, he has the most potential to drive a line. When he’s on his game, the Swede is a tenacious player – with and without the puck – that other teams hate playing against. At both ends of the ice, the dynamic skater possesses the ability to get into the mix.
And right away, Johnsson will get an opportunity to make an impact, sliding in on the team’s third line alongside fellow Swede Par Lindholm and Connor Brown. He’ll also be slotted into the team’s second power-play unit where the former seventh-round pick will hopefully be able to find his offensive groove, similar to the way Josh Leivo earned a spot in head coach Mike Babcock’s lineup.
Michael Singh is a sports journalism graduate student at Centennial College in Toronto. If he is not spending his time on the newsdesk interning at Sportsnet or playing competitive NHL 19 (think you can beat him?), you can bet he’s found himself deeply engraved in some sort of Toronto sporting event — probably the Toronto Maple Leafs.