The Toronto Maple Leafs 2021-22 season starts tomorrow, but they are already scrambling due to injuries. Auston Matthews will miss the first week of the season, and another top-six forward, Ilya Mikheyev, will be out for at least eight weeks. Toronto also lost Adam Brooks, who was picked up off of waivers.
In the most recent edition of the Maple Leafs Lounge, the crew that covers the team for the Hockey Writers discussed the excitement around the start of the season and the final roster adjustments.
Keefe Adjusting Top Six
A few days ago, Sheldon Keefe had his top six figured out. Then within 24 hours of each other, 1/3 of his players on the first two lines were ruled out. First-line centre Auston Matthews’ recovery from wrist surgery will require more time. However, the team is not rushing and has ruled him out for at least the first week of the regular season
The news came on the same day that Mikheyev found out he would require surgery on his thumb. He was slotted in as the second-line winger after an impressive training camp. The writers discussed the options Keefe has to replace Mikheyev.
Peter Baracchini talked about the new-look lineup, “you hate to say it’s a big role to fill, but he is an important part of this team…. He came out flying out of the gate. He looked good with Tavares and Nylander; scoring touch is coming back.”
Like the other writers, Hobson feels bad for Mikheyev and his bad luck, added the injury could set the speedy winger back long term. “The top two left-wingers to start the season with be Michael Bunting and Nick Ritchie. I think that makes Mikheyev’s situation a lot dicer by the time he gets back. Bunting and Ritchie both had very good preseasons; if they come flying out of the gates and prove they belong, it’s going to be tough for Mikheyev to get one of those spots.”
Sandin is in, Liljegren and Dermott Competing
Toronto’s top four defencemen have not been in question, but the equally as crucial third pairing has been contested. As a result, it appears the Maple Leafs are down three players for the final two spots. Rasmus Sandin, by far, had the best training camp or the trio, if not the entire defensive core. But Timothy Liljegren and Travis Dermott are competing for the sixth spot. That said, Keefe did experiment with seven defensemen and 11 forwards a few times last season.
The writers believe this is a make-it-or-break-it season for Liljegren; the team’s first-round draft pick in 2017 has failed to progress. I said, “I’m at the point where if he can’t make it, it’s almost time for a mercy trade to get him out and see what he can do with a different organization. There are guys on other teams that looked good at one time but haven’t made it. Make a move to save two careers at one time.”
Hobson pointed out that during Lilijegren’s draft year he was projected to go as high as top five, “before he got mono, he was supposed to be second fiddle to Nolan Patrick that year, so the skill is there it’s just if the Leafs can give him consistent enough minutes to allow him to prove he is ready to play in the NHL.”
Josh Ho-Sang has Fans
Josh Ho-Sang has created quite a following of Hockey Writers’ readers. Several comments were supportive of the Maple Leafs working on reviving his career. Ho-Sang came to camp on a professional tryout and did earn an AHL contract.
Baracchini believes Ho-Sang could be called up to the big club soon, “he will be playing top-six minutes in the American Hockey League (AHL). It’s going to go well for him; he rounds out his game defensively, it will give you some idea where he could be in the NHL.
I thought Adam Brooks would be in front of him if there was a call-up; however, Brooks was picked up by the Montreal Canadiens off waivers on Monday. We appreciated your comments and feedback. Please leave them below the YouTube video or this article so the writers can discuss it on the next show.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.