The one thing that the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Dubas and head coach Keefe have talked about a lot with this training camp is building competition for jobs. They also talked about how that competition would play a role in deciding the opening-game roster.
Obviously, there’s a team hierarchy. Some players are guaranteed a spot on that opening-game roster, and some players aren’t. Barring injury, the following players are guaranteed one of those spots.
Maple Leafs Forwards Guaranteed a Spot on the Opening-Game Roster
The following forwards are guaranteed a spot on the team’s opening-game roster: Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, William Nylander, Alex Kerfoot, Ilya Mikheyev, Wayne Simmonds, and Jason Spezza. Because Pierre Engvall is injured, for this post we’ll let him remain on the outside without comment. However, he will be part of the mix as well – somewhere.
Maple Leafs Defensemen and Goalies Guaranteed a Spot on the Opening-Game Roster
The following defensemen and goalies are guaranteed a spot on the team’s opening-game roster. These defensemen are Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, T.J. Brodie, and Justin Holl. The goalies are Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek.
The Numerical Make-up of the Maple Leafs’ Roster
We believe the Maple Leafs will keep 13 forwards, seven defensemen, and two goalies. As we look at it, eight of the 13 forward positions are already filled; four of the seven spots for defensemen are also filled; and, both goalie jobs are taken. The remainder of the players in training camp are fighting for five forward spots and three defensemen spots.
Our intent in this post is to share who we believe played well during the first two preseason games; and, by their play, took a step towards the goal of a roster position. Obviously, preseason games are only a snapshot of what’s been happening in the background of the entire training camp and the entire context that goes with it. So, as always, our analysis is more micro than macro. However, it is a starting point.
Maple Leafs’ Players on the Bubble
Forward Michael Bunting
Michael Bunting played a solid game on a line with John Tavares during Saturday night’s first preseason game. He scored the type of goal he’s noted for, in the dirty area in front of the net. He also had another chance on a breakaway. Overall, he played the exact type of game the team is looking for from him.
Forward Kurtis Gabriel
Kurtis Gabriel was as advertised – physical. He made some heavy hits and engaged in a quick fight. He seems to be a gifted pugilist. Even better, he also used nice hand/eye coordination to knock down a clearing attempt by Canadiens’ goalie Michael McNiven to give himself a wide open-net, unassisted goal. His ceiling is most likely as a 13th forward who could step into games when the Maple Leafs feel physicality is needed. During the first preseason game, he took a step toward obtaining that goal.
Forward Nick Ritchie
Given all the penalties in the first period of Monday’s second preseason game as well as having to sit five minutes because of his fight with the Montreal Canadiens’ Ben Chariot, Nick Ritchie didn’t get a lot of ice time during the first half of the game. However, once he, Mitch Marner, and Adam Brooks got some time together in the second period, they started to click. Ritchie had a good scoring chance and was involved in the Brooks goal that was called back. Overall, it was not a bad debut for Ritchie.
Forward David Kampf
David Kampf played well. Although he’s not a physical player, he does have decent size and uses that size well. He got just under three minutes of penalty-kill time and scored a shorthanded goal when Canadiens’ goalie Kevin Poulin mishandled the puck. Kampf, Kase, and Mikheyev appeared to have some chemistry together.
Forward Ondrej Kase
Ondrej Kase also played a decent game. Once the game settled into some five-on-five play during the second period, Kase, Kampf, and Mikheyev appeared to carry the play. He set Mikheyev up on a good scoring chance, and he scored an in-tight goal himself on a nice feed from Morgan Rielly.
Maple Leafs’ Defenseman on the Bubble
Defenseman Timothy Liljegren
Timothy Liljegren is the one Maple Leafs’ defenseman who’s on the bubble. The rest of the defense seems like a lock – and that probably also includes Rasmus Sandin. Liljegren played his second preseason game, and it was a strong one. He wasn’t flashy, but made smart plays with and without the puck throughout most of the game. He was caught out of position on one good Montreal scoring chance; but, overall, he appears ready to play in the NHL.
Where Are the Maple Leafs After Their First Two Preseason Games?
There are still over two weeks remaining until the opening game against these same Canadiens. Lots can happen and lots can change in those two weeks; however, based solely on our micro-analysis of these first two preseason games, this is how we can see the opening night roster looking.
Forward Line Combinations
Line One: Ritchie – Auston Matthews – Marner
Line Two: Bunting – John Tavares – Nylander
Line Three: Mikheyev – Alex Kerfoot – Kase
Line Four: Wayne Simmonds – Kampf – Jason Spezza
Last forward standing: Brooks
Pairing One: Rielly – T.J. Brodie
Pairing One: Jake Muzzin – Justin Holl
Pairing One: Sandin – Travis Dermott
Last defenseman standing: Liljegren
Campbell (1A) and Mrazek (1B)
The Unpredictability of Waivers
The one thing we simply can’t predict is who’ll be placed on waivers, who will clear waivers, and who won’t. For example, Sandin and Liljegren could become interchangeable parts. Sandin will likely be in the top-six, if he plays well enough. Or, if he struggles, he could find himself with the Marlies simply because he’s waiver exempt with Liljegren jumping to the big team.
As always, we’ll see.
[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf