The questions keep rolling in from fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs as their play-in series draws closer and, while they don’t all have to do with their matchup with the Columbus Blue Jackets, the team’s fans want to know what’s going on with this team.
Now, I won’t pretend to have a crystal ball in answering these inquiries, but I will look to add some insight as we look ahead for the Maple Leafs. With that in mind, here are a few questions from Leafs Nation and the rest of the hockey world that surfaced this week.
Who do you pray that the Maple Leafs do and do not draft with their first pick?
For starters, it’ll all depend on how the Maple Leafs’ fair against the Blue Jackets during the play-in round. If the Maple Leafs lose the play-in round and – by some miracle – land the first overall pick, obviously they’ll use to draft Lafrenière.
That said, the pick is top-10 protected and otherwise belongs to the Carolina Hurricanes – a pick that was moved by the Maple Leafs to the Hurricanes in the deal that sent Patrick Marleau and his contract to Carolina.
If that’s the case, the Maple Leafs currently own 10 other picks in the 2020 NHL Draft – including their second, fourth and sixth round picks, as well as Vegas’ fourth and fifth, Carolina and Colorado’s sixths and San Jose, St. Louis’ and Winnipeg’s seventh-round picks.
So, if the Maple Leafs were to hand over their first to the Hurricanes, their draft will rely on them finding some later round talents that they can turn into NHL commodities.
With that, there are a number of players that the Maple Leafs would be fortunate to grab with the picks they have leftover. Four names that stick out to me in the second round projections are Jan Mysak, Ryan O’Rourke, Sam Colangelo and Luke Evangelista.
Both Mysak and Evangelista would give the Maple Leafs some more small, but fast and talented, forwards. Similar to Mitch Marner, the Maple Leafs have found success in small wingers. While Colangelo would give them some size up from to eventually play a second or third line role.
Finally, O’Rourke would add some much needed size to the Maple Leafs back end, a defence corps that currently consists of a number of puck-moving, offensive defensemen.
Another name that could be an interesting pick for the Maple Leafs is Tyson Foerster. Foerster is another good-sized winger that has incredible offensive upside and that could add some overall potential to the Maple Leafs up front when he does make the jump to the NHL.
Which team will show up?
Well Gary, I’m assuming you mean which side of the Maple Leafs will show up for the play-in round against the Blue Jackets?
Like I said, I don’t own a crystal ball. At least, I don’t own one that works. That said, you’re talking about a well-rested, healthy team coming back for the play-in series. They’re under a head coach that they trust. Playing a system that – for the most part – they bought into. And they have a high-powered offence that can win them games.
While they have question marks still in their own end – and obviously some that surround Frederik Andersen’s ability to get it done in Game 7s – the Maple Leafs will have to rely heavily on their offence to get it done against Columbus. Especially because the Blue Jackets are one of the better teams defensively and – like the Maple Leafs – will have a healthy team coming back.
So, assuming the Maple Leafs can put it all together and play consistent hockey for a short stretch, it just might be the team you’re looking for when hockey resumes.
That’s a great question Pat. There’s no question the team needs to figure out what to do in their own end. As Keefe’s tenure took hold, they did show glimpses of better breakouts and better understanding of how to shut things down defensively.
That said, they also dealt with a number of injuries and had to have guys like Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren step into NHL roles and adapt quickly.
Is there room to grow on the defensive end for the Maple Leafs? Absolutely. But it’s a team effort that needs to happen. The defensemen need to attack the puck and make it difficult for the opposition while the forwards need to make sure they’re in position for a clear breakout.
That said, the Maple Leafs will need to find some support on the back end moving forward. Are Sandin and Liljegren the answers? How about Mac Hollowell or Mikko Lehtonen? Possibly. But if the Maple Leafs want a fix soon, they may have to look elsewhere while they guys develop into legitimate NHL defensemen – like trading for another asset or through free agency.
Other than that Pat, defence is still a question mark as you pointed out.
Will Matthews re-sign in five years or bolt? In my mind, because he’s American he’ll want to go back home like Tavares did with Toronto.
While I think this is something that Leafs Nation shouldn’t even be thinking about at this point, I’m sure Adam’s not the only one asking it. But let’s put it like this.
If you ask Matthews right now about what he’s going to do. He won’t know. And nor would he tell you. Right now, he’s focused on the Maple Leafs and his contract with Toronto.
Would he love to play in Arizona? Maybe. But along with playing in front of friends and family comes pressure sometimes. There may be a day when he decides that he’d like to play in Arizona, but is that something that you should be worrying about for the next four years?
Regardless of what he decides to do when his contract is up, the focus for Matthews and his teammates right now is on the blue and white leaf they wear on their jerseys. When it gets to that point, that’s when talk of a Matthews-Arizona reuniting should come to fruition. Until then, there is no right answer as to whether or not he’s going to leave Toronto. It’s just going to be one of those wait and see moments.
For now, we’ll focus on the questions we can answer and there’s still a ton of mail in the bag to get to. If your question wasn’t answered this week, look for it in the next edition of the Maple Leafs’ Mailbag. Or if you have a question that you want answered, feel free to leave it in the comments below or reach out to me on Twitter.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.