3 Maple Leafs’ Prospects Making Cases for Opening Night Roster

Obviously, making the Toronto Maple Leafs’ opening night roster is complex. First, there are many good candidates. Second, there are extenuating circumstances such as injuries to cover and salary-cap issues. 

It will be a dogfight to emerge from the pile of solid youngsters who are seeking to earn the opportunity to suit up for the team’s first regular season game. That said, a number of players are emerging from the pile. Several are showing well enough during preseason games to garner consideration for an opening game roster spot. 

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In this post, I’ll look at three of them.

Player One: Nick Robertson

Nick Robertson made a statement in last night’s 6-3 win over the Ottawa Senators. He looks ready for prime time. His shot, which is his meal ticket for finding his space in the lineup, looked strong. It was tough to stop. His two goals were creative and pretty. He’s beginning to prove that he can and will be a scoring threat.

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However, what most impressed me were two things. First, Robertson was effectively water-bugging everywhere on the ice. He was quick to loose pucks and effective when playing them when he got there. He seems more confident this season in every aspect of the play.

Nicholas Robertson Toronto Maple Leafs Draft
Nicholas Robertson, Toronto Maple Leafs, 2019 NHL Draft
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Second, he looks more solid on his feet. Last night, he took up residence in the rough places of the ice – in front of the opponent’s goalie – and he got beat on. But this season seemed different. He seemed stronger. He wasn’t knocked down and went back for more.   

I can see Robertson effectively claiming Jason Spezza’s second-unit power-play spot. He has a way of getting pucks on the net. Last night was as effective as I have seen him play. Furthermore, I didn’t see anything lucky in his play, which to me means he can replicate what he did last night again and again. 

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I’m not sure he can make the team given his waiver exemption, but if he did I can see him being successful.

Player Two: Denis Malgin

It’s obvious that the coaching staff is giving Denis Malgin a really good look this preseason. He’s passing every test that seems to be thrown his way. Malign has an offensive mindset and tons of skills to go with it. I saw little of this in his last go-around with the team.

Malgin is impressive with whomever he plays with. He especially looked good with William Nylander, but he obviously doesn’t need the highly-skilled Nylander to be successful. Last night, he looked good with youngsters Pontus Holmberg and Robertson. He’s a finisher, and that’s a key to scoring in close. He has a bit of Michael Bunting in him.

Malgin has done enough things right this preseason to warrant a chance to make this team. Given what I’ve seen (and I’m sure other general managers around the NHL as well), if the Maple Leafs try to sneak him through waivers, he won’t make it. 

Player Three: Pontus Holmberg

Pontus Holmberg has grown on me. During his first preseason game, I admit that I barely noticed him on the ice. However, because his line was so successful I believed he had to be part of that success. Now I’m starting to see why. He’s not a flashy player, but he is steady. And, steady is good.

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Holmberg, like Malgin, does little things right. He plays well positionally and moves the puck forward offensively or out of trouble defensively. He also shows flashes of creativity that give him a scoring chance of two each game. 

What makes him interesting might also make him less visible. He plays well in concert with his linemates, creating chances for their success and being able to turn their offensive initiatives into success for himself.

Pontus Holmberg Team Sweden
Pontus Holmberg, Team Sweden (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

He’s consistent and seems able to play in all situations. He wouldn’t look out of place centring a bottom-six unit – at least until John Tavares returns. I’m not sure his future is this season, but I can see him fitting seamlessly into the Maple Leafs’ future plans.

The Bottom Line for These Prospects

The question of who makes the team might be answered pragmatically. That is, although I believe Robertson has the skill and needs the time with the big club, his waiver exemption might make the Maple Leafs move him down to the Toronto Marlies as the first call-up. 

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In my opinion, Robertson doesn’t need more seasoning at the AHL level. However, he can be hidden there until needed. Holmberg, as I noted, is making a case for time; however, his career path wouldn’t be stymied by a season with the Marlies. 

My guess is that Malgin, of the three, is the most likely to make the team out of training camp. He isn’t waiver-exempt; and, I’m convinced another team would pick him up based on his preseason success. If the Maple Leafs truly like him they would be forced to keep him on the roster. 

Bobby McMann Toronto Marlies
Bobby McMann, Toronto Marlies (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

In addition, another young player who has impressed me is Bobby McMann. He’s fast, smart, and seems to have good offensive instincts. He’s someone to watch I believe. I didn’t note him in this post because I don’t think he has a chance to make the team this season.

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