Maple Leafs’ Young Forwards: Who Makes the 2021-22 Roster?

During the offseason, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas noted that a goal of the organization was to increase the competition for making the Maple Leafs’ roster. He’s certainly done that with a number of signings. 

Assuming that the team will carry 13 forwards and factoring in all the incumbents, that leaves only a few spots remaining for the organization’s young players. In this post, we want to review four of those young Maple Leafs’ forwards to assess their chances of making the opening night roster. 

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The four young players we’re going to look at are Michael Bunting, Nick Robertson, Joey Anderson, and Adam Brooks. They’re in direct competition with each other for one of those 13 forward roster positions. Which one (or maybe two) will suit up for the Maple Leafs for the team’s first game of the regular season.

Player One: Michael Bunting 

Most Maple Leafs’ fans believe that Bunting is a lock to make the Maple Leafs’ roster, but that might not be accurate. In Arizona, on a much weaker Coyotes’ team, he didn’t play that much until the last part of the 2020-21 season. It would be premature to believe he’ll make the roster: he has to earn that spot. That said, Bunting has a solid chance.

Bunting even has a chance to replace the departed Zach Hyman as a top-six left-winger. Bunting’s smaller than Hyman at 5-foot-11 and a solid 195 pounds. (Hyman is 6-foot-1 and weighs 211 pounds.) However, both players play the same type of game. Bunting isn’t afraid to muck it up in the corners or in front of the net. 

However, the 25-year-old Bunting has only played 26 NHL games. The upside is that he scored 11 goals in those games. Of those goals, 10 came last season for Arizona (in 21 games). One issue is that Bunting’s 26,3% shooting percentage doesn’t seem sustainable, and he scored three of his 10 goals in a hat-trick game vs the Los Angeles Kings on April 4 2021. Can he continue that production in a full-time role? No one knows for sure.

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Although the jury is still out, Bunting could start the season as high as one of the left-wings in the top-six. He could also fill the 13th forward role. 

Our Prediction: Bunting will make the roster. 

Player Two: Nick Robertson

Robertson is a long-shot to make the roster. He might be the most talented player in this group of four, and he’ll most likely become a Maple Leafs regular at some point in his career. But, it might not happen this season. 

Two seasons ago Robertson was cut from camp and sent back to juniors. Later, Dubas admitted afterwards that he didn’t give Robertson a fair shake. As an 18-year-old junior he scored 55 goals and 86 points in 46 games. It seems as if this season might be déjà vu all over again with Robertson and the Maple Leafs’ roster.

Nick Robertson Toronto Maple Leafs
Nick Robertson, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

Last season Robertson stayed with the team through training camp, and remained on the taxi squad to start the season. Sadly for him, in the first game he started he was injured on a hit along the boards. 

When Robertson healed and the Marlies resumed action, because the junior leagues weren’t playing, he was allowed to suit up for the Marlies as an under-age player. He played 21 AHL games but suffered two more injuries, the last one a concussion. 

Although today’s NHL has tried to protect smaller, skilled players, Robertson remains only 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds. That matters: and it might have contributed to his injuries. As a 20-year-old, the rules allow him to return to the Marlies. We can see the Maple Leafs not wanting to rush Robertson and deciding it’s better for his development to play a complete AHL season, loading up on first-line minutes and power play time. 

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One other factor works against Robertson making the roster. He’s the only waiver-exempt player of the four. There’s no danger of losing him if the Maple Leafs move him down. However, even if he initially heads to the Marlies’ dressing room and roster, it’s likely Maple Leafs’ fans could see Robertson regularly because he could move up and down between the two teams freely. 

Our Prediction: Robertson won’t make the roster at the start of the regular season. 

Player Three: Joey Anderson

There seems to be little chance of Anderson making the roster. Anderson’s strength is that he really has no weaknesses. His weakness seems to be that he has no strengths. While there aren’t areas of his game that are said to be lacking, there are also no areas he really excels at. 

Anderson has shown some offensive abilities in the AHL and to a certain point in the NHL. He scored 15 goals and 34 points in 44 games with Binghamton in 2019-20 and has scored eight goals in 53 NHL games (a 13-goal pace for 82 games). Anderson does play a 200-foot game and has killed penalties in both the AHL and NHL. 

Joey Anderson on the bench when he was with the New Jersey Devils
(Photo Credit: New Jersey Devils/Patrick Dodson)

While Anderson doesn’t shy away from the physical aspects of the game, like Bunting he’s 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds. That’s a physical size the Maple Leafs seem to have in overabundance. Unless he has a stellar camp, we think he’s destined for the Marlies. That is, if he can clear waivers. 

Our Prediction: Anderson won’t make the Maple Leafs’ roster and will move to the Marlies. There’s a chance he’ll be plucked off waivers.

Player Four: Adam Brooks

Brooks is the second of two players on this list who was drafted and developed by the Maple Leafs. He’s also another “smaller” NHL forward at 5-foot-11 180 pounds. Although he showed well in 11 games with the Maple Leafs last season (four goals and an assist for five points), he also had a 40% shooting percentage. Brooks also dropped a spot on the team’s depth chart when center David Kampf signed. 

The intriguing thing about Brooks is his offensive potential. Over the last three seasons at the AHL level, he’s scored 34 goals and 39 assists (for 73 points) in 107 games. He absolutely lit up the WHL with the Regina Pats by scoring 38 goals and 82 assists (for 120 points) in 72 games in 2015-16 and 43 goals and 87 assists (for 130 points) in 66 games in 2016-17. The young center can shoot the puck in the net. 

Adam Brooks of the Regina Pats
Adam Brooks, Regina Pats (Keith Hershmiller Photography)

He’d have to have a great camp to become a regular in this lineup. Although he could be a candidate for the Maple Leafs’ 13th forward spot, he’d also look great between Robertson and Anderson on the Marlies first-line. He’d have to clear waivers for that to happen. 

Related: Maple Leafs’ Trade Scenarios: Two Crucial Tipping Points

Our Prediction: We’re stuck on whether Brooks will make the Maple Leafs’ roster. Stan believes he’s a long-shot; but, I believe he’ll stick because the team won’t take a chance he’d be taken off waivers.

[Note: Again 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.]

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