Maple Leafs Standout Players From First Preseason Game

The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens both played their first game of the preseason. It was also the Maple Leafs’ first game in front of their live fans for what seems like – in fact, has been – years. The 4-1 Maple Leafs’ win over the Canadiens on Saturday was well-deserved. The blue and white team simply played better than the red, white and blue team. 

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In this post, we’ll take a look at ten Maple Leafs players and how they played during their first game of the preseason.

Player One: William Nylander

If this game is what we can expect every night from William Nylander, it’s going to be a season to look forward to. Nylander was dominant during his first preseason game. He started the game with a nice end-to-end rush, made a nice play to set up Jake Muzzin on the first goal of the game, had a nice shot on the power play early in the second period that was tipped in by John Tavares for the Maple Leafs second goal, and (and this is not a typo) actually played 1:21 minutes on the penalty kill. 

William Nylander Toronto Maple Leafs
William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Nylander even added a goal during the scheduled shootout at the end of the game, regardless of the score. Nylander also played on the left side, and seems strong on his skates wherever he played. Having him play on the left wing might suggest that Nylander could be jumped up into a line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner as a more regular occurrence this season.

Player Two: Jake Muzzin

Over the last four seasons that Jake Muzzin played for the Los Angeles Kings, he averaged close to 40 points a season. So, it’s not as if he’s a stranger to being part of the offense. However, with the Maple Leafs, Muzzin’s role has been more defensive. 

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Is that changing? During this first preseason game, he looked more like the Muzzin of old. He had three really good scoring chances deep in the Canadiens’ zone, making good on one of them. Muzzin also made a really nice stretch pass off the boards to send Michael Bunting in alone on a breakaway.

Player Three: John Tavares

Tavares didn’t show any lingering effects from his injury against the Canadiens in the 2020-21 postseason. Tavares was all over the place and really played well with Bunting and Josh Ho-Sang. 

Player Four: Michael Bunting

Bunting showed he can play with an elite player like Tavares without looking out of place. He scored the type of goal he’s known for, a tip in off a pass by T.J. Brodie close in front of the net. He also had another scoring chance on a breakaway. 

Michael Bunting
Michael Bunting is trying to make the Maple Leafs roster [photo: Terry Wilson/OHL Images]

Bunting looked strong and pesky. He looks like the kind of blue-collar player Maple Leafs’ fans will come to appreciate.

Player Five: Kurtis Gabriel

Talk about players that Maple Leafs’ fans will appreciate. Kurtis Gabriel is certainly one of them. In Saturday’s game, he was an assist away from a Gordie Howe hat trick. He scored an unassisted goal and got into a fight. 

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He might not be the swiftest skater, but he works hard to cover the ice. He was physical all night, showed a lot of energy, and didn’t seem to miss a chance to throw a hit. What fan doesn’t like that?  

Player(s) Six: Goalies Michael Hutchinson & Ian Scott

Michael Hutchinson played a solid game. Although he seemed to work hard, he didn’t have to stop many shots. However, he looked sharp, confident, and capable when he needed to be. 

Michael Hutchinson Toronto Maple Leafs
Michael Hutchinson, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Ian Scott came in to start the third period and made three really nice saves. Sadly, the young goalie then suffered a groin pull and left the game after playing fewer than five minutes. After the game, Keefe noted that Scott might be out for a while. Too bad.

Player Seven: Timothy Liljegren

Simply stated, Timothy Liljegren looked like an NHL defenseman. He played well both with and without the puck all night. Liljegren did get caught out of position once and allowed the Canadiens’ Cole Caulfield in alone for a scoring chance; however, he had a good game overall.  

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Player Eight: Rasmus Sandin

Rasmus Sandin played a solid game – for the most part. He assisted on Tavares’ power-play goal and started a play from his own zone that ended with Bunting’s goal. Although he’s not solely to blame for the Tyler Toffoli goal, Sandin needed to work harder to get back into the play after getting caught on a pinch.

Sandin scored on the power play; however, he was then replaced by Filp Krall on the power play for the rest of the game. Overall, Krall played a good game.

Player Nine: Josh Ho-Sang

Josh Ho-Sang played with a ton of energy throughout the game, and he appeared to work well with Tavares and Bunting. However, Ho-Sang seemed nervous. That’s understandable given the pressure he must be facing on a PTO and playing in his hometown. 

Player Ten: Ilya Mikheyev

Ilya Mikheyev had a strong game and was more physical than we’re used to seeing. He had two of his usual great scoring chances that – also as usual – ended without a goal. However, he did score during the shoot out.  

Ilya Mikheyev Toronto Maple Leafs
Ilya Mikheyev, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Throughout the game, Mikheyev worked well with Nylander and Kerfoot. Although It was only one game, it appeared that trio could make up a solid third line, if Keefe decided to go that direction.  

Overall Maple Leafs’ Players Summary

The Maple Leafs’ group one looked solid all night. They worked hard and were fast and skilled. They set a pace that seemed tough for the Canadiens’ group one to match. The result was the game’s shot differential, with the Maple Leafs outshooting the Canadiens 32-17. 

[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.]