Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Bunting, Aube-Kubel & Samsonov

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll focus on the Michael Bunting effect. Yesterday, I noted in a post that a new catchphrase/question had emerged from both Maple Leafs’ fans and those who (like myself) write about the team. That question is: “Who will the new Michael Bunting be?”

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In itself, that the question keeps being raised suggests the kind of impact fans believe Bunting has had on the team. In the conversation section of that post, a number of fans took up the challenge to point out who might show up to become a great value addition to the team for a low price tag.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Michael Bunting: Not Someone to Bet Against

[Note: Have I pointed out recently how much I appreciate those who read and comment on my posts? Even when I make mistakes, which I do, mostly the commenters take the time to point out these errors without becoming nasty. Thanks.]

Item One: What Kind of a Season Can Michael Bunting Have?

As I noted in yesterday’s News & Rumors post, the impact of Michael Bunting has been felt on this Maple Leafs’ squad. The question of “Who will be the next Michael Bunting?” keeps rising. Not only did the youngster from Scarborough have himself a breakout season, but he’s easy to root for because of his backstory. 

Michael Bunting Toronto Maple Leafs
Michael Bunting, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He rose through the system with help from people who cared enough to support his dream when his mother wasn’t able to fully finance his play. He struggled in the minors but persisted. And, he eventually prospered. On top of that, he seems like a genuinely good guy who really appreciates playing at home and loves being a Maple Leafs’ player. It all works to make a great story.

Bunting is the kind of player I find myself rooting for. Now the real question, as one of the regular readers and commenters gcmgome put it, is whether Bunting’s success was just a one-off or whether he can continue to be a consistent NHL performer after just one breakout season.

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Stan Smith believes that, given the type of game Bunting plays, even if he doesn’t score as much this season as he did last season he will still be an effective player. Stan also reminds us that Bunting scored 10 goals and had 13 points in 21 games for the Arizona Coyotes. So, he’s shown the ability to score.  

Unless he’s sidelined by an injury, my prediction is that Bunting will top 25 goals.

Item Two: Who’s Great Value for the Money This Season: Three Possibilities

Furthering gcmgome’s conversation, if the Maple Leafs are looking for incredible value for a low-dollar signing, three possibilities were signed during this offseason. 

One is Adam Gaudette. Gaudette is a player I watched with the Vancouver Canucks, and I thought he had the makings of a solid NHL player. If his health issues are under control and he can keep his weight and strength up, I agree with gcmgome that he could be a surprise for the team. 

Adam Gaudette Vancouver Canucks
Adam Gaudette, when he was with the Vancouver Canucks
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

A second player gcmgome named was Nicolas Aube-Kubal. Given his background and reputation as a physical player, he’ll likely add some puck-digging skills to the team. Most fans seem to have Aube-Kubel pegged as an adequate fourth-liner. And if that’s the case, that’s all well and good. 

However, if either Aubel-Kubel or Gaudette could turn the team’s fourth line into something special – fast, physical, and absolutely hard-working – how the team would benefit? I’m really looking forward to watching how Aube-Kubel does this season. My guess is that the organization feels fortunate to have signed him. Are they right? They thought the same with Nick Ritchie.

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A third player who might fit the bill for having a potential breakout season on an inexpensive contract is Victor Mete. He’s a young defenseman who’s shown talent in the past, and he has the reputation of being exceedingly fast as a skater. He’s small, at 5-foot-9, but he’s in a comfortable situation coming to play with old friend Mitch Marner. The two played together in junior hockey. 

Item Three: Can Goalie Ilya Samsonov Return to Form?

A fourth player who could return to form is goalie Ilya Samsonov. Samsonov was a first-round draft pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, and he has elite athleticism. He was considered as having a high ceiling, but his play has been erratic and inconsistent. 

With the Washington Capitals after the past three seasons, Vitek Vanecek was steadier and got the job. He was never thought to have the same skill Samsonov had, but he was more dependable. In 2021 and won the job after Samsonov missed a month after he contracted COVID-19. 

Toronto Maple Leafs Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov
Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov, now with the Maple Leafs (The Hockey Writers)

In the past, Samsonov was thought to have the potential to become an elite NHL goalie, the jury’s out right now. I am probably too optimistic – but I think Samsonov could show up and play lights out. If he can do that, the new Michael Bunting might be in the net. 

The youngster is shaped like a “classic” goalie at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds. And in three seasons with the Capitals, he put together a record of 52-22-8 with a goals-against-average of 2.81 and a save percentage of .902. 

I’ve been surprised that Maple Leafs’ fans have been so quick to dump on him. Is it just the general sense of irritation with all things Maple Leafs going around this offseason, or am I really missing something important?

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

One thing I didn’t do in this post was to look to the Toronto Marlies for possibilities. Perhaps there’s a youngster who’ll jump to the pump from the AHL. I’m personally rooting for Joey Anderson and Bobby McMann.

Related: Maple Leafs Reward Bobby McMann with Two-Year ELC

It’s not impossible that someone emerges from the Marlies – perhaps an injury call-up – who pleasantly surprises all of us this season. Who might it be?

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