Maple Leafs Might Have a Power Play Quarterback in Brennan Menell

As reported by CapFriendly, young offensive defenseman Brennan Menell signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs yesterday. Menell’s contract calls for him to earn $750,000 if he plays in the NHL or $400,000 if he plays with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies.

Why Menell Is Such an Interesting Signing

What makes Menell such an interesting signing is that he had such success last season in the KHL when he scored five goals and 38 points in 47 KHL games. He had moved to the KHL when he couldn’t find a spot on the Minnesota Wild’s roster. But, then, it seems that Menell has had a history of proving people wrong.

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Menell was an undrafted player who showed his ability to be a strong offensive defenseman in three seasons with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants and Lethbridge Hurricanes. He was then signed by the Minnesota Wild in September 2017.

Brennan Menell, Iowa Wild
Brennan Menell, Iowa Wild (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Moving to the AHL with the Iowa Wild in the 2017-18 season, for the next three seasons he continued to put up strong numbers. However, the NHL’s Wild had a logjam of young defensemen and Menell decided to sign with the KHL’s Dinamo Minsk for 2020-21, a team based in Belarus. There he finished the season with 38 points in 47 games, which ranked him second for all KHL defencemen.

For Some Reason, Wild GM Bill Guerin Decided to Part Ways with Menell

Last week, the Wild’s general manager Bill Guerin decided to trade Menell’s negotiating rights to the Maple Leafs for a conditional seventh-round pick in 2022. At the time, Guerin noted that Menell needed a change, and it wasn’t the organization’s policy to get in the way of a young player.

Is Acquiring Menell’s Rights only a Minor Deal?

Perhaps Menell’s signing is a minor deal. At first, it seemed to me that way; and, in a recent post announcing the Maple Leafs’ trade for his rights I even suggested that “Menell was probably a long-shot to make the team.” However, my recent research suggests that I might have been hasty making that assessment.

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I’m coming to believe the 24-year-old right-shot defenseman might have a bigger upside than I expected. It’s obvious that Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas has used his KHL pipeline to scout this youngster, just as they did with Mikko Lehtonen. In fact, this is the second year in a row that the Maple Leafs have signed the KHL’s top young defenseman. It’s obvious the organization is looking for that elusive right-shot defenseman to quarterback their power play.

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Getting Menell from the Wild for a conditional seventh-round pick in the 2022 draft might turn into something down the road for the organization. According to Earl Schwartz of theleafsnation.com, Menell averaged the most minutes of any player in the KHL last season and really knows how to run a power play. When Schwartz compared Lehtonen and Menell as power-play quarterbacks, he noted that Lehtonen has a big slap shot while Menell is an excellent passer who makes the most of the ice around him.

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Schwartz believes Menell’s value will been seen mostly on the power play. However, at even strength, he’s also able to drive the tempo of the game with fast transitions. As Maple Leafs’ fans know, such uptempo offensive suits the Maple Leafs’ philosophy well.

Where Might Menell Fit on this Maple Leafs’ Roster?

Currently the Maple Leafs have four defensemen who are a lock going into the 2020-21 season. The first-pairing is Morgan Rielly and T.J. Brodie; and the second-pairing is Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl. Outside these top four, four young defensemen are competing for the last three spots on the roster. Most Maple Leafs’ fans believe Travis Dermott and Rasmus Sandin will become the third pairing, with Timothy Liljegren being the seventh defenseman.

Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Rasmus Sandin
Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Rasmus Sandin (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)

Then, there’s Menell. Is it possible he might be able to beat out either Sandin or Liljegren? Because both are waiver exempt, it would be an easy move to return either to the Marlies. The question is whether Menell could sneak through waivers at the start of the season if he didn’t make the team. I think there’s a chance he wouldn’t.

I heard a rumor that Menell would be highly sought after, and the Maple Leafs might have difficulty signing him. But that didn’t seem to be the case. So, it’s iffy what other teams think about him.

Menell’s Shown He Can Be an Effective Right-Shot Defenseman

What we do know is that Menell could end up on the Maple Leafs’ or the Marlies’ rosters. If his KHL time is an indication, he can eat up big minutes and quarterback a power play. His strong skating gives the team a right-shot defenseman who can effectively jump into the rush.

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In short, Menell might be an NHL-ready player who can play the kind of offensive style the Maple Leafs desire. Depending upon what happens with Rielly after this season, perhaps there’s more in store for the un-drafted Minnesota native. Is there a chance we might be looking at the next full-time Maple Leafs’ power-play quarterback?


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