In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ Commentary, I’ll take a look at seven questions (of the myriad of questions) that will soon be answered by the Maple Leafs. So much is unknown about this particular team. But time will tell.
It was a similar situation last season when new players came in. Some fizzled and some rose to prominence with the team. I have to admit that I was wrong about projecting success (I was a fan of the Nick Ritchie signing) and not projecting enough success (I liked both David Kampf but didn’t see how important his impact would be).
I’m sure the situation will be the same this season. Here are seven questions that remain to be answered for the Maple Leafs – for the good or for the bad.
Question One: Will the Maple Leafs Be Improved?
With the betting lines headed into the 2022-23 season being what they are, the oddsmakers believe the Maple Leafs have improved. However, the fans don’t agree. There’s never been an offseason of so many disgruntled fans. The big question is if the team has improved or not.
Thus far, in each of the four offseasons that general manager Kyle Dubas has been in charge of building the team, the team has improved. Can they again? And, in this, I don’t mean regular season improvement. I mean for the postseason.
Question Two: How Will Fans Respond to the Regular Season?
Maple Leafs’ fans seem so down to me that I wonder if they can enjoy the regular season even if the team plays well. Will they enjoy it if the goalie situation goes well? Will they root for Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner to replay last season’s success?
How will they respond if John Tavares plays well? Will William Nylander still be described as wimpy and uncaring? What will the narrative become? Even if the Maple Leafs have a good regular season, can fans enjoy it? Or will it become self-defeating all over again?
Question Three: What Will Happen with Nick Robertson?
In a recent post, I wrote that I’d like to see Nick Robertson have a chance to play more (even on the second line) so we can see just what he brings as a player.
I know that many fans believe we’ve already seen what he has and that he brings nothing of value. He’s small. He can’t skate. He keeps getting knocked down. His kamikaze style will keep getting him injured. We don’t know yet. How will we respond if Robertson is good? Or, vice-versa, isn’t good?
Question Four: Can the Maple Leafs Find a Second-Line Left-Winger?
There’s no question that the second-line left-wing spot has been an area that’s needed improvement for a couple of seasons. It would seem that the team needs a Zach Hyman clone – an aggressive forechecker who’s strong enough and willing enough to dig pucks out for John Tavares and William Nylander, who are good shooters.
Tavares, for his part, does go to the front of the net and might do that more. But the team needs someone to bang on defenders, create havoc in front of the goal like Michael Bunting does on the first line, and open up space for Tavares and Nylander. Robertson isn’t that player. Is there another on the team who might be?
Question Five: Can the Third Line Produce Offense?
The third line, as it’s been constructed, is a shutdown line. With Ilya Mikheyev gone, now Calle Jarnkrok is taking his place. While Jarnkrok has a reputation for being solid defensively, he’s been critiqued by Maple Leafs’ fans because he hasn’t put up much offensively.
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Will Jarnkrok’s offense get back to pre-last season’s totals where he’s averaged about 15 goals a season? Was his down season just a matter of where he played last season and the roles he had with both the Seattle Kraken and the Calgary Flames?
Question Six: Where Will Pierre Engvall End Up?
Given Question Four about the second-line left-wing spot, might Pierre Engvall land there? He started to show last season that he can and is willing to utilize his size to his advantage. At his best, he’s a solid forechecker who takes up space in front of the net with his body. Will he continue to do so?
Will Engvall continue to grow in his offense? Will he use his size to become more physically engaged as he was with the Toronto Marlies? He’s fast and can make defenders blink with his speed. He can also remain on the third line and continue to grow in that position.
Question Seven: Does Size Still Matter in the NHL, and Do the Maple Leafs Have It?
Does size still matter in the NHL? And, if it does, do the Maple Leafs have enough of it? Specifically, where will Nicolas Aube-Kubel eventually land?
We know what Aube-Kubel brings to the ice. He’s tenacious and hard-working. He doesn’t dial it in – ever, it seems. Could he be the next David Kampf (as one Maple Leafs’ writer on another site wondered)? Might he be the next Michael Bunting (as another Maple Leafs’ writer on another site wondered)?
He’s an enigma thus far. The jury is out.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
Right now, things seem almost too quiet with the team. I believed that was because there was another big trade coming. But is that accurate?
It could be that Dubas will start the season with the team he has and see if players from the Marlies can be used to fill in spaces that seem to be need filled as the season progresses.
We will soon see. That’s part of the fun of it all for me.