The Toronto Maple Leafs are riding high. That’s what winning something like the draft lottery will do to a team and its fan base. The biggest prize at the draft is arguably Auston Matthews, the skilled American centre. The Maple Leafs have been craving a player like that for some time, and may have potentially found their next superstar pivot.
Despite the lottery win, the Maple Leafs still have plenty of work to complete as the summer runs on. They started that by officially signing Russian defenseman, Nikita Zaitsev to a one-year entry level deal. The big blueliner is an excellent skater, has an accurate and heavy shot and is blessed with NHL size.
Lamoriello on Zaitsev: "We all feel in the organization that Nikita can play in the top-4 next year … we've all spent some time with him"
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) May 2, 2016
Zaitsev was never drafted into the NHL but has worked hard and turned himself into the best defenceman in the KHL. He was regularly relied upon in both the regular season and playoffs by his team, CSKA Moscow. He should be able to step right into the Leafs lineup next year and will most likely be playing top four minutes.
Finding the Goalie of the Future
The Maple Leafs still have a lot of areas to shore up. One of the most important is between the pipes. Elite goaltending is a must have in todays NHL. Teams lock up their starters for years ahead, in order to get their best years out of them. Defence wins championships, and having a solid starter is imperative for any team that wishes to contend.
The Leafs rolled through this year with a combination of goaltenders. It started with Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer. The latter was then shipped out to the San Jose Sharks, leaving Bernier and newcomer Garret Sparks to hold down the fort. While both had their moments, neither inspired the confidence necessary to label them the starter of the future.
A few names have popped up of goaltenders to pursue, the most interesting of which is Tampa Bay Lightning backup Andrei Vasilevskiy. He’s young, big and skilled. He would fit the rebuilding model that the Leafs are aiming for and give them a goaltender that could turn into a number one, especially if he’s brought along the correct way.
They could also pursue Frederik Andersen, one of two starting goaltenders that the Anaheim Ducks currently possess. He will be a restricted free agent in July, and the Ducks will have to make a decision on what to do with him.
Bring Stamkos Home?
Arguably the biggest potential signing of the summer would be Steven Stamkos, the captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The dynamic scorer has been a constant source of rumours about where he will be signing in July. If there’s one thing he has, it’s options.
Stamkos could re-sign with Tampa, the team that went to the Stanley Cup finals last year. He’s the captain and de facto leader, and the squad is filled with talent. There are rumours of Detroit, Buffalo, Montreal and Toronto, plus many more.
It’s not every day that a player like Stamkos becomes available. With the Leafs almost assuredly taking Matthews in the upcoming draft, it’s unclear how Stamkos would react. Maybe he would jump at the chance to play for the Blue and White and mentor the teams young stars in the making?
Steven Stamkos returns to the ice in non-contact jersey today for first time since blood clot surgery. #TBLightning
— NHL EXPERT PICKS (@NHLexpertpicks) April 26, 2016
On the flip side, he wants to play centre. With Matthews potentially slotted in as the top line pivot, is there any room for the former Sarnia Sting forward? There is also the issue of the blood clot that he recently developed. He did undergo surgery to deal with the clot, and all signs point to a full recovery. A team will still want to do their full due diligence and get doctors clearance before moving forward.
The Maple Leafs have a lot of chips that could come into play if they try and woo Stamkos home. Only time will tell how everything shakes out.
The Future is Bright
The Maple Leafs finally appear to be doing everything right. The team is well run and Brendan Shanahan has put his plan for success in motion almost flawlessly. The shelves are stocked with prospects. The AHL’s Marlies have Calder Cup aspirations and are charging forward into the second round of the playoffs.
— OntarioHockeyLeague (@OHLHockey) May 3, 2016
Mitch Marner, who the Leafs drafted fourth overall in 2015, is ripping up the OHL playoffs and was recently named the OHL Most Outstanding Player of the Year. Lots of stuff is going right for Leafs Nation. A smart 2016 draft is the next step to the franchise succeeding in the very near future.