Fans of the Maple Leafs have had a lot to complain about over the years. In an interesting twist, this has been a rough season for fans of basically all the Canadian NHL franchises. Edmonton, Vancouver and Calgary are near the bottom of the NHL standings and only have the draft lottery to look forward to in the near future. The Winnipeg Jets were expected to build off of a strong season last year, but they have largely been a disappointment.
Montreal crashed and burned without Carey Price in net and the Ottawa Senators simply let in too many goals this season. Last but certainly not least, we have the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are one of the bottom three teams in the NHL. Unlike these other franchises however, the Maple Leafs are completely content with their position in the standings.
It’s a Rebuilding Year
Upon Mike Babcock’s hiring over the summer, the Maple Leafs bench boss promised that there would be pain in the near future. In order for the franchise to rebuild properly, the players would need to work incredibly hard and buy into the new system that Babcock and his coaching staff would lay in place.
Once the players bought in and raised their values, it was time to start shipping them off in exchange for draft picks and prospects. Dion Phaneuf was sent to Ottawa, James Reimer to San Jose and Daniel Winnik to Washington. A host of other players were also sent off to teams looking to make a playoff push.
After that, it was time for the kids to make their mark and shine. The Leafs line-up in recent weeks has been filled with their best prospects coming out of the Toronto Marlies. William Nylander, Zach Hyman and Connor Carrick are just some the kids who have made a positive impact on the organization.
Connor Brown and William Nylander have combined for 4 multi-point games this season, 2 apiece. Fine start for these rookies. #TMLtalk
— Paul Hendrick (@HennyTweets) March 30, 2016
They have given management, the coaching staff and the fan base a much needed jolt of adrenaline. Despite the growing pains that come with having so many young players on the roster, they have all done remarkably well for themselves. They are getting valuable NHL experience, which should hopefully translate into future success in both the upcoming AHL playoffs and beyond.
Keep an Eye on the Draft
It’s been an absolute treat watching the kids play since the trade deadline passed. It has been important for their development as players. The upcoming NHL Entry Draft, however, is of even more importance. This year has been highly publicized as the year of Auston Matthews. The big centre is coveted among just about every team including the Maple Leafs.
If Toronto doesn’t win this first overall pick, there are a bevy of other talented options in what seems to be a deep 2016 draft class. The fantatsic Finns, Patrick Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi will most likely go top three. Then we have Matthew Tkachuk, Alex Nylander and Olli Juolevi.
Wherever that first Maple Leafs pick falls, they are almost guaranteed to get a solid player who can make contributions at the NHL level, sooner rather than later. The Pittsburgh Penguins are also firmly entrenched in a playoff spot, which means that the Maple leafs will acquire another first round pick. This one will come as part of the Phil Kessel deal that took place over the summer.
The second pick is music to the team’s ears, as they have a ton of potential options on the table. They can use the pick and select a second first rounder. They could also find a willing partner and trade up higher into the order. The options are limitless, which is exactly what the Maple Leafs brass want. With a reported 12 picks in this draft alone, the Leafs are in prime position to bolster their cupboard of prospects.
The only way to go is up. The Maple Leafs appear to be well on their way to successfully rebuilding their organization. There will still be pain coming, but for the time being, the right decisions are finally being made and fans should feel confident about the direction that their team is heading.