With many veteran pieces shipped off at the trade deadline, the focus of the Toronto Maple Leafs shifted from the present to the future. They traded many of their roster players for prospects and draft picks, while at the same time calling up their most promising skaters from the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies.
One of the key assets that was sent to another team was goaltender James Reimer, who at the time that he was traded was the longest tenured Maple Leaf. He’s now part of the San Jose Sharks, and has seemingly fit right in as the team makes a push for a decent playoff spot.
That left two goalies to pick up the slack. Garett Sparks and Jonathan Bernier have been trading time in the Maple Leafs crease, and while both have had some measure of success, it was Bernier who most recently stole the show.
Bernier’s Shutout Hurts Red Wings Playoff Chances
Bernier was fantastic on Sunday night when the Leafs played the Red Wings. It was a big game for Detroit, as they are jockeying for playoff position and needed all the points they could get. But the Wings stumbled in this game, largely in part because of Bernier.
He stopped all 38 shots he faced and was able to secure his 12th career shutout in the process. Michael Grabner scored an odd looking goal and from then on Bernier was able to close the door on any and all chances, even when the Wings pressed for the equalizer late in the third.
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) March 14, 2016
It was a great effort from a player who’s future with the Leafs is still very much in question. He started the season off by not being able to win a game. What followed was a successful stint in the AHL and being thrust back into the net once Reimer was traded. He’s now the most veteran goaltender in the system, and for his part, he played the role beautifully in the shutout win.
The time for questions will come for the Maple Leafs soon, but for now, Bernier played excellent and helped his team win a critical game.
The Kids Keep Impressing
There have been so many young guns to make their NHL debuts with the Leafs this season. That was in large part due to the trade deadline and the amount of moves the Buds made leading up to that day. That opened the door for the teams most promising young players to get a crack at what play is like in the NHL.
The names who have impressed the most are Zach Hyman, Nikita Soshnikov, William Nylander and Connor Carrick. Hyman has become a favorite of Mike Babcock, who has utilized the versatile forward in all types of different situations.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) March 8, 2016
Soshnikov has quickly become a fan favourite. He plays a style that is reminiscent of teammate Leo Komarov. That essentially means he hits just about everything and is able to get under the skin of his opponents with ease. He’s also showed a knack for strong skating and has a great release.
Nylander has easily been the most hyped of all the prospects who were called up. It’s not surprising considering that he is one of the future stars of the franchise. Nylander has had his good moments, and with each passing game looks more and more comfortable.
His skating is excellent and he’s provided a bit of offensive punch as well. He’s also been above average when taking face-offs, which is something Babcock can only be happy about.
Connor Carrick has also been a pleasant surprise. He was acquired along with Brooks Laich in the deal that sent Daniel Winnik to the Washington Capitals. The defenseman has shown a physical edge as well as poise with his passing and movement through the zones.
Auston Matthews News
While not exactly being news about the Maple Leafs, this is something that could pertain to the club in the near future. The crown jewel of this draft is Matthews. The big center decided to play out his draft year in Switzerland, in a move that was virtually unheard of.
It seems to have paid off as he had a great year and put up 24 goals and 46 points in 36 games. Shockingly though, the Zurich Lions were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Matthews had three assists in the four games. The big question now becomes what’s next?
It was rumored he may be headed to the Everett Silvertips of the WHL, who hold his rights. It has now come out that he is ineligible to play for them this year. Another option would be the World Championships, which are taking place in May. He’s a safe bet to get an invite to the American squad, as Jack Eichel did last year.
Matthews ends his NLA time with the most goals (24) and points ever by a teenager (46). With NLA getting better by year, will be hard to top
— Corey Pronman (@coreypronman) March 10, 2016
Leafs fans will want to keep a close eye on wherever Matthews plays next, because come June he could be pulling on a blue and white sweater. It would be a dream come true and an elite building block for a Maple Leafs franchise that is aiming for greatness once again.