The Toronto Maple Leafs have lots riding on this season. It feels like the Stanley Cup Playoff struggles have run their course, and the 2021-22 season is an all-or-nothing type of season for the club. Expect to see the team perform well this season, but in order to do so, some things are going to need to fall into place for the Maple Leafs. Let’s examine three key factors for Toronto’s success as 2021-22 kicks off:
Auston Matthews Wrist Injury
If Matthews isn’t playing at 100% this season, the Maple Leafs could be in trouble. He’s their leader on the ice when it comes to production, and frankly, the only chance in hell Toronto has of winning anything of significance rides on the fact Matthews needs to be the one to take them there.
The Arizona native managed to score 41 times in 52 games last season, and if healthy, I have predicted that he scores 60-plus. So far in training camp in Toronto, Matthews has skated with the team for non-contact drills and seems to be heading in the right direction to start in blue and white on opening night.
Starting the season is one thing but having a nagging injury throughout is certainly different. The team is hopeful the surgery is going to take care of the latter, but at this point you just never know. The Maple Leafs have been a huge disappointment these past couple of postseasons, and just when you think they are going to get over the hump, they stumble. Regardless of the past, the future is now for the club, and they need Matthews healthy and firing the puck from everywhere to make some noise in 2021-22. So Matthews’ health is a huge factor for Toronto this season.
Maple Leafs Goalie Duo Needs to Work
Both Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek have looked sharp so far in the preseason, and it sounds like Campbell is going to get the opening tilt against the Montreal Canadiens, with Mrazek going the next night against the Ottawa Senators. After that is anyone’s guess, and head coach Sheldon Keefe will have his work cut out for him to keep both goalies fresh and engaged.
The duo looks unreal on paper, especially if you consider their stats from 2020-21 and the financials. No other team in the league has two goaltenders with this much skill making less than $5.5 million. Regardless of their paychecks, health and happiness are two major elements that will result in success for the Maple Leafs. Both goalies need to stay healthy, which hasn’t always been the case for both of them, and they need to produce. From all accounts, it looks like both goalies are sharp and should push each other for the crease. Having riches in net is something every team dreams of, and the Maple Leafs are lucky with these two between the pipes.
Secondary Scoring Needs to Be Consistent for Maple Leafs
In order to ensure the Maple Leafs make the playoffs (yes, some are calling them a bubble team), they will need to have more than just their big guns putting up points. Last season both Matthews and Mitch Marner were top-5 in the NHL in scoring, and it’s very likely both John Tavares and William Nylander finish the season in the top 20. After them, though, is anyone’s guess.
The likes of Nick Ritchie and Michael Bunting are going to need to show they belong on the team’s top two lines. Meanwhile, players like Alexander Kerfoot and Ilya Mikheyev have to prove to the coaching staff and to Leafs Nation that they are capable of producing offensively.
Kerfoot should get a look at the wing to either start the season or sometime early on, which could bode well for his production offensively. His career-high is 43 points, which he accomplished back in 2017-18 during his rookie campaign, and he’ll need to find his scoring touch once again this season.
Mikheyev, on the other hand, has a giant spotlight on his back after his trade request during his exit interview last season. It’s a put-up or shut-up type of situation, and early on, the Leafs are going to give him a look in more of an offensive role. He’s been snake-bitten at times throughout his tenure in Toronto, so there’s certainly a ton of pressure on the player to step up in 2021-22.
Some other names that should frequent the score sheet this season include Ondrej Kase, who projects to start on the third line with Kerfoot and David Kampf. He’s a 20-goal scorer in the NHL and will need to find his groove in his new role with the Maple Leafs. Having a player like Kase chip in is the type of thing the team will need to squeak out wins when maybe they shouldn’t.
Each point is going to be vital this season because of how strong the Atlantic Division is. It will be important to limit the losing streaks and not get too far away from the playoff picture early on in the season. Having a consistent secondary group who can produce will be vital for Toronto’s success this season. While that’s certainly a key factor, let’s make no mistake about it, the team will depend on Matthews scoring and a solid duo in their crease. If the wrist injury continues to nag, and the goalie tandem doesn’t meet expectations, it could be an interesting season for the Maple Leafs.
Shane covers any and everything to do with the Toronto Maple Leafs & Pittsburgh Penguins. A constant contributor to the THW family, his passion and unique perspective on the game results in some diverse content. Certainly versatile, you can find Seney also contributing at NHLTradeRumors.me, BaseballRumors.me & BBallRumors.com. Follow along on Twitter @ShugMcSween