The 2021-22 Toronto Maple Leafs season kicks off on Oct.13 against the Montreal Canadiens, and the roster is starting to take shape. The team has given a ton of players a look so far during preseason games, and as the “meaningless” games start to dwindle down, we’re going to see more of the 1A team play together. This includes both Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek in net more often, as well as line combinations playing in a game situation together. I’ve been wrong many times before, what’s to lose? Here’s what I feel will be the opening night roster and line combinations for the Maple Leafs this season:
Maple Leafs Forward Group Full of Depth
Nick Ritchie – Auston Matthews – Mitch Marner
Michael Bunting – John Tavares – William Nylander
Ilya Mikheyev – Alexander Kerfoot – Ondrej Kase
Wayne Simmonds – David Kampf – Jason Spezza
The Maple Leafs are in great shape when it comes to their depth upfront. The team has two of the best centers in the league at one and two, followed by a solid number three in Alex Kerfoot, and David Kampf, who can easily slide up a line and will also get a ton of minutes in a shutdown role and on the penalty kill.
Head coach Sheldon Keefe is loving what he’s seeing out of Nick Ritchie and Michael Bunting so far in camp, and from all accounts, those two have their names in ink on the top two lines. Ritchie is going to provide some serious and much-needed bulk to the team’s top line. Look for him to score a ton of goals in close as both Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews will have the puck on their sticks the majority of the time. When they aren’t throwing the puck in Ritchie’s corner to go get it on the forecheck, they’re going to be drawing defenders to them and opening up ice for the rugged winger to pot in the easy ones. I’d look for him to hit 25 goals this season with ease.
As for the second line, Bunting has shown already he’s going to score a ton of goals in close. This style is a perfect complement to John Tavares and William Nylander and this line is going to be one of the strongest second lines in the league.
Nylander showed last postseason his game is going to new levels and expect a big season out of the one-time often chirped Maple Leaf. Now he’s become a fan favorite and should become even more polarizing in 2021-22. Tavares on the other hand is back to being 100% healthy and we all love to see it. He’s been solid since he’s signed in Toronto and expect another 30-plus goal season out of the Maple Leafs’ captain.
The third line is the one line that could change first. There have been ongoing discussions about if Kerfoot will be moved to the wing, but it’s likely he starts down the middle on opening night. Ilya Mikheyev, coming in hot after demanding a trade, will have a huge spotlight on his back. If he starts the season snake-bitten again and is unable to light the lamp, he’s going to be moved and likely for Nick Robertson to be inserted.
Ondrej Kase has impressed the hell out of me so far during the preseason games and if he can stay healthy, he can be a huge x-factor when it comes to secondary scoring. He’s going to be given some time on the penalty kill, which will be a learning experience for him, but the 25-year-old also has 20-goal potential in Toronto. If this line can produce consistently, the Eastern Conference better lookout.
Lastly the fourth line. Kampf’s calling is to shut down the opposing team’s best players so let’s see how he handles this responsibility. The Maple Leafs have needed a shutdown center for a while now, and the keys will certainly be handed over to the former Chicago Blackhawk. Don’t let his preseason goal-scoring prowess fool you, he’s a defensive-minded forward who is best suited to making the other team’s best players work for space. Simmonds and Spezza are a couple of vets who bring very different tangibles to the table. One saw a wrist injury de-rail his early production last season, while the other is an ageless wonder who seems to be not slowing down anytime soon. Both players can move up in the lineup and will see power-play time on the Maple Leafs’ second unit. Not bad for a couple of fourth-liners.
Maple Leafs Defense Core Set in Stone
Morgan Rielly – TJ Brodie
Jake Muzzin – Justin Holl
Travis Dermott – Rasmus Sandin
While T.J. Brodie has turned into one of the best signings in recent memory, Morgan Rielly is entering a contract year and has a potential shot at playing for the 2022 Team Canada Olympic team. There’s certainly a lot riding on this season for the veteran Maple Leaf and Leafs Nation is hoping this extra motivation leads to a career season in blue and white.
Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl have become the shutdown pair and looked great together at times last season. There’s still a touch of inconsistency in their games, but both have to remain physical to be as effective as possible. They both also have some underrated offensive skills to bring to the group and look for their five-on-five production to increase this season.
Lastly, we have Travis Dermott and Rasmus Sandin. These two are two of the biggest question marks heading into this season in Toronto. Dermott was awarded a new two-year contract but that doesn’t mean he’s here to stay.
Timothy Liljegren is chomping at the bit to get some regular playing time and those two will be in a battle all season for ice-time. Sandin on the other hand is the future of the Maple Leafs’ defense. He’s capable of taking over for Rielly as the power-play quarterback and at times, will be playing with the top unit. Sandin is a major wildcard for coach Keefe and let’s see if he can live up to the hype in 2021-22.
Toronto’s Goaltending Tandem Will Be Among League’s Best
The Maple Leafs are rich in net and ironically don’t pay their netminders very much. General manager Kyle Dubas signed Petr Mrazek to a three-year deal worth $3.8 million per season. Meanwhile, Jack Campbell is in the final year of his current contract paying him $1.6 million. Having two goalies of this caliber on the same team, making less than $5.5 million is an absolute steal. Look for Campbell to start game one against the Canadiens and Mrazek to get the next night against the Ottawa Senators. For the most part, they will be split up rather evenly as far as starts go, but if one goalie is on a heater like we saw out of Campbell last season, expect Keefe to give him the crease for an extended period of time.
The Maple Leafs have all the tools they need to be successful, all they need to do now is execute. Loaded with depth, this is how I feel the lines are going to be set up to start the season, but as we all know players get injured, traded or sent down and things can change rather quickly. Leafs Nation, get your popcorn ready, it’s going to be an entertaining season in Toronto.
Shane covers any and everything to do with the Toronto Maple Leafs & Pittsburgh Penguins. A constant contributor to the THW family, his passion and unique perspective on the game results in some diverse content. Certainly versatile, you can find Seney also contributing at NHLTradeRumors.me, BaseballRumors.me & BBallRumors.com. Follow along on Twitter @ShugMcSween