Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Who Hakstol Wants & Rielly as a Forward

Today feels like the calm before the storm. Tomorrow is a big day because the list of who’s officially exposed to the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft will be revealed. Until then it’s a question of treading water and wondering what philosophy the Toronto Maple Leafs will engage moving forward.

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In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, it seems like a good time to share almost a hodgepodge of random thoughts about the state of the organization, its players, and the near future.

Random Thought #1: Who Does Dave Hakstol Want from the Maple Leafs’ Lineup

One interesting aspect of the Kraken expansion draft is who the team hired as their new head coach. That’s former Maple Leafs’ assistant coach Dave Hakstol. What makes it interesting to me is remembering what happened when Sheldon Keefe took over the head coaching job from Mike Babcock. When he was flying to Arizona to punch his first timecard as coach, sitting alongside him on the plane was forward Pierre Engvall.

Pierre Engvall Toronto Maple Leafs
Pierre Engvall, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Wouldn’t it be ironic if Hakstol also desired the 25-year-old Swedish forward? Although we can’t be sure who Hakstol will like, he’s bound to have a list of current Maple Leafs’ roster players on his mind that he’d like on his new team. Furthermore, one has to believe that (a) he’s told Kraken general manager Ron Francis that list; (b) that he’s on conversational status with Keefe and general manager Kyle Dubas; and, (c) he would at least take the time to ask the question “What will it take to get …..?”

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I can’t know for sure, but it seems as it the Kraken expansion draft could go quite well for the Maple Leafs. What I do know is that Hakstol brings with an insider’s knowledge of the Maple Leafs’ players he’s worked with. What I also know is that the Maple Leafs have some needs and that it might be a good time to leverage relationships to see how those needs might create win-win scenarios with the Kraken.

Some of the immediate questions to be addressed are what happens to usual suspects Alex Kerfoot, Justin Holl, Travis Dermott, or even Ilya Mikheyev. I’m not a coach, but I have the feeling Mikheyev’s going to grow into a strong NHL player. He’s a player I’d target.

Random Thought #2: Finding a Top-Six Forward Already on the Maple Leafs’ Roster

As I hope I do often, I want to thank my readers for their ideas. This interesting idea came from regular reader BossSause. BossSause noted to me that he believes the Maple Leafs can solve one of the issues of their line-up by turning offensive-minded defenseman Morgan Rielly into a top-six winger.

Morgan Rielly Toronto Maple Leafs
Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

BossSause noted that the idea came to him when he was “in an old-days funk.” He was recalling that Red Kelly won four Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings as a defenseman; however, when Kelly came to Toronto in a trade, then head coach Punch Imlach immediately converted him into a center. Kelly went on to win four more Stanley Cups in his time with the Maple Leafs.

But Kelly isn’t the only example. Wendel Clark was drafted first overall by the Maple Leafs in the 1986 NHL Entry Draft. He was a defenseman. He played a single game on defense, but then played the entirety of his career as a power forward. He was a great left-winger for the Maple Leafs, playing 608 games and scoring 260 goals and 181 assists (for 441 points) for the team.

Maple Leafs Johnny Bower and Red Kelly

Outside of the Maple Leafs’ organization, Dustin Byfuglien moved back and forth as a defenseman and an effective power forward with both the Chicago Blackhawks and the Winnipeg Jets. The list goes on. Mark Howe made the NHL Hall of Fame mostly in his body of work as a defenseman, but he played on a forward line with dad Gordie and brother Marty as well. Phil Housley, Sergei Fedorov, and Brent Burns (who switched the other way from a so-so forward to a great offensive defenseman and won the 2017 Norris Trophy). So it can work.

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BossSause reasons that, because Rielly is a great skater and is offensively skilled, he would be defensively responsible in the front end and could still work the power play. BossSause then advocated for bringing 6-foot-7 UFA Jamie Oleksiak back home to Toronto as a less expensive salary cap hit to take Reilly’s defensive spot.  

He believes Rielly’s only weakness is his point shot, which would be eliminated as a forward. However, he believes Rielly could turn into a good setup man and an offensive threat. If Hyman re-signs with the team, Rielly could be on the left wing of one line and Hyman on the left wing of the other. He believes this solution wouldn’t upset the present personnel or the flow of the team and could help move the team towards salary cap efficiency and strengthen the left side of one of the two top lines.

Interesting – right? Thanks for that thought.

​​What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Rumors about the position of goalie are in the news recently, with Darcy Kuemper’s name becoming very popular in the mill. Obviously, as always, the Maple Leafs are on that list of interested teams.

Related: Toronto Maple Leafs | Revisiting the Wendel Clark for Mats Sundin Trade

It’s one of those interesting times of the NHL season. There’s lots of rumors flying around; however, during the next two weeks much will be revealed. It will be fun!