Ever wonder what the Toronto Maple Leafs lineup would look like if they only employed active Toronto-born players from across the league? Today, we answer that question.
It’s well documented that a plethora of Toronto area players make up a significant part of the NHL’s top performers, as well as a portion of Canadian Olympic teams. But, many of those players are born and raised in more rural towns and cities of Southern Ontario, or from other cities in the GTA like Mississauga, Brampton, Vaughan, Markham, or Oakville.
For the matter of curiosity, let’s look at what kind of lineup could be created from specifically Toronto-born players only. Keep in mind, districts like Etobicoke and Scarborough are technically a part of the city of Toronto, and have been included in this experiment for means of having the required number of players to create a full 23-player lineup.
One might expect this team to be one that could contend for a Stanley Cup. However, the results are much different than one might expect for the newly dubbed Toronto Born Leafs. A notable shortage of NHL-level centers, as well as extremely thin goaltending are the main concerns.
Jeff Skinner – Casey Cizikas – Wayne Simmonds
Reilly Smith – Zach Hyman – Tyler Toffoli
Andrew Cogliano – Brandon Pirri – Connor Brown
Chris Stewart – Tom Wilson – Josh Ho-Sang
The Leafs would be lacking centers up front, where Casey Cizikas, a fourth-liner, is the only true centerman. Subbing in down the middle with a secondary ability to play center is Zach Hyman and Brandon Pirri. Hyman only took 29 faceoffs in 2016-17, while Pirri took 243. Likewise, Tom Wilson, who isn’t listed as even a secondary center by eliteprospects.com, took just 11 faceoffs last year.
As for expected production at center, Cizikas tallied 25 points in 59 games while averaging just 13:54 minutes per game, not exactly your ideal first-line center. Similarly, Hyman put up 28 points on a more respectable 16:41 per game. Total goals scored by Leafs’ centers based on 2016-17 production? A whopping 46 goals.
Things look more promising for the Toronto Born Leafs along the wings. Jeff Skinner and Wayne Simmonds have both shown the ability to score 30 goals a year, while Reilly Smith and Tyler Toffoli have both cracked the 20-goal plateau, giving the Leafs some solid depth. If the wingers can pick up the play of some centers that are in over their head, the Leafs may be able to escape trouble. Hey, maybe this team isn’t so bad after all.
Moving along into the bottom-six, Connor Brown hit 20 goals in his rookie season and could just be scratching his potential. Alongside him, Andrew Cogliano is a Swiss Knife type of player who can fly and be relied upon in any situation. Prototypical fourth-liners, Chris Stewart and Wilson round out a pretty decent bottom-six, while Josh Ho-Sang gives the Leafs a wildcard who could potentially breakout in 2017-18. With Daniel Winnik as a spare, this forward corps certainly isn’t great, but it’s got the potential to be average if the top-six wingers could all have strong seasons. In all, one could expect about 175 goals from this group, a fairly respectable mark to hit.
Mark Giordano – P.K. Subban
Trevor Daley – Dougie Hamilton
Adam Pelech – Chris Tanev
Along the blue line, the Leafs are looking much better. A top pairing made up of Mark Giordano and P.K. Subban would be one of the most dynamic pairings in the league. Both defenders have an ability to be a game-changer on both sides of the puck. With smart defending and booming checks, not to mention notable offensive upside as well, these two could make up for the potentially lacklustre offence.
On the second pairing, veteran Trevor Daley lines up alongside a budding superstar in Dougie Hamilton. Daley, a back-to-back Stanley Cup champion with the Penguins, is a veteran with tons of experience who still plays a solid all-around game. On the right side, Hamilton has improved each year of his career, and should be considered a top-20 defenceman in the NHL. All four of these defencemen could surpass 24 minutes per game.
The value drops off in the third pairing, but remains solid enough. Adam Pelech, a 23-year-old, broke into the league last year and was one of the Islanders best defenceman for the better part of half the season. Meanwhile, Chris Tanev is a penalty killing machine who could thrive under protected minutes. Brendan Smith as a seventh defender offers the Born Leafs great depth in the likely case of injury or poor performance.
After it looked like the defence could make up for the deficiencies of the forward group, goaltending may turn out to be the Toronto Born Leafs’ Achilles heel. In the immediate future, at least. There’s no denying that this duo, namely Malcolm Subban, has the potential to bring strong goalkeeping to the team in a few years.
The younger Subban, 23, has played four consistently strong seasons of AHL hockey and is arguably prepared to make the jump to the NHL right now. As for Matt O’Connor, the once hyped college free agent has fallen back to Earth, struggling over two AHL seasons. The Leafs may come into the season with just three games of NHL experience between the pipes, but hey, this team is destined for greatness.
Overall Expectations for the Toronto-Born Leafs
This is a team that would keep Leafs’ fans on the edge of their seats each night because of its severe positional differences in talent. Sure, down the middle of the ice and between the pipes, this team may make the Vegas Golden Knights look like a Stanley Cup contender. But, along the wings and the blue line, the Leafs feature some very notable stars who could steer the team back towards mediocrity.
In all likelihood, this is not a playoff team. However, I don’t believe that it’s a bottom feeder either. Looking at the ability of the offence to create goals, both up front and from the blue line, combined with one of the best top-four in the entire league, the Leafs could very well be a team that finishes in the 85-90 point range. Especially if Subban is able to have a Calder Trophy-esque season.
With that said, I don’t believe there would be many fans in Toronto that would take this lineup over the current Maple Leafs team. I mean, just compare the first-line centers; Auston Matthews versus Casey Cizikas. In any case, it sure would be neat to see them go head-to-head.
Contributor for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Prospects. Scout with the Oakville Blades of the OJHL. For questions, concerns, or comments, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @SlawsonTHW.