In a previous post, we looked that the moves that Toronto Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas made after his team’s disappointing loss to the Montreal Canadiens in last season’s postseason. We also noted that both Dubas and his boss, Maple Leafs’ President Brendan Shanahan, doubled down by reaffirming their confidence in the team’s core.
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During the offseason and at this season’s trade deadline, Dubas proceeded to make changes to the supporting cast surrounding that core. Specifically, we looked at and assessed the forwards who were with the team and compared those forwards to those who left. Our thesis was that this season’s additions more than made up for any losses from those players who moved on.
Looking More Fully at the Forward Additions
In this post, we’d like to look more fully at the new forwards who came to the team this season. We’d specifically like to look at what we believe each might bring to the playoffs that would help the Maple Leafs move forward on their Stanley Cup journey. We are going to focus only on those new forwards we believe have a legitimate chance to play during the postseason.
If everyone is healthy, the forwards the Maple Leafs have brought in to replace the players who did not return this season are: Michael Bunting (26 years of age); Colin Blackwell (28 years of age); David Kampf (27); Ondrej Kase (26); and, Nick Abruzzese (22).
Forward One: Ondrej Kase
When we began to take notes for this post, of the five forwards listed above two were injured. We were surprised when Ondrej Kase started Game 1 when he had been away for more than six weeks. We were also surprised that Kase even was able to play at all after he suffered another in a series of concussions on March 19.
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Kase had been skating on his own; and, although head coach Sheldon Keefe stated he was making progress, we never thought he’d be able to play. Not only did Keefe play him, but he inserted Kase into the top-six. And, Kase never missed a beat. He registered two assists and added a hard-working energy (and skill) perspective to the team. He set up Ilya Mikheyev over and over again.
If he stays healthy, that’s the kind of play the Maple Leafs can expect from him. He’s skilled, hard-working, both offensively and defensively above average; and, he seldom makes mistakes. He could have a strong impact this postseason.
Forward Two: Michael Bunting
Michael Bunting suffered a lower-body injury that was thought, at first, to require time to heal. Darren Dreger reported on the First Up radio broadcast recently that Bunting’s injury was not as serious as first thought and the Maple Leafs expected him back for Game 1 of the playoffs. However, Bunting wasn’t able to play.
As Game 2 approaches tonight, it seems as if Bunting will likely play. If he’s healthy enough to play his usual game, he should more than compensate for the loss of Zach Hyman who was a mainstay for the team. He has the same qualities as Hyman as well as a nastiness to his game that Hyman lacked.
He goes to the dirty places to score. He’s always in the goalie’s crease screening and creating havoc. He’s a pain to play against.
Forward Three: David Kampf
David Kampf fills a role the Maple Leafs didn’t have last season. Kampf is a defensive center who wins the majority of his draws (53 percent) and is a player Keefe has enough confidence in to match him against the opposing team’s best players.
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Despite starting 77 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone, Kampf is a positive in scoring chances for (51 percent), shots for (52 percent), and scoring chances for (52 percent). He is a plus-10 in plus/minus this season.
While Kampf provides little offense, he’s had a career year in production, scoring 11 goals and 26 points in 80 games this season. And, he showed during Game 1 that when he has a chance he goes for it. His speed and skill were the reason he was able to score a short-handed goal Monday night.
Last, Kampf has averaged just over 15 minutes of solid ice time. That could be extremely valuable when it comes to helping Keefe manage the workload of his top players.
Forward Four: Colin Blackwell
Colin Blackwell is a bit of a wildcard going into the postseason, but it looks as if Blackwell will be the regular center on the team’s fourth line. That said, he can fit in a number of different spots. Keefe has played him up and down the lineup in an effort to see where he could best use him.
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Blackwell has played as much as 15:44 in one game and as little as 5:52 in another over the 17 games he’s played for the Maple Leafs. He’s contributed little in offense, with only two goals in his 17 games. However, Blackwell has shown some flashes of offensive skill. He’s also won slightly more than half of the faceoffs he’s taken (50.6%).
For a small player (5-foot-9 and 190 pounds), Blackwell is not shy when it comes to the physical aspects of the game. He’s averaged just under two hits a game for the Maple Leafs. Overall, Blackwell has decent speed, is defensively sound, and has some offensive upside.
Maple Leafs’ fans will likely see Blackwell starting the playoffs centering the fourth line between Spezza (or Clifford) and Simmonds. He’d take over the roles that Brooks and Nash filled in last year’s postseason and should be a step up from them.
Forward Five: Nick Abruzzese
Nick Abruzzese has played nine games with the Maple Leafs since signing an entry-level contract (ELC) when his collegiate season came to a close. He scored his first NHL goal against the Bruins in the last game of the season. We really don’t expect to see him much on the ice when the puck drops in the postseason.
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There’s a possibility he could be an injury replacement. However, it might be more likely that Nick Robertson, who has 15 NHL regular-season games experience and four playoff games, would get the call first. Robertson has scored 27 points in 26 games for the Marlies since returning from injury.
Brett Seney leads the Marlies with 57 points in 59 games; and, in addition, he’s a center. He could also get the call before Abruzzese. If the Maple Leafs are looking for someone that is better defensively, Joey Anderson could be who they turn to.
[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]
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