Maple Leafs’ Early Roster Observations

The Toronto Maple Leafs are well into their training camp now. And, the media is attending. As a result, Maple Leafs’ fans are getting regular updates on what’s going on. 

Initial Maple Leafs’ Training Camp Groupings

Here’s some of what we know. Yesterday, TSN’s Kriston Shelton tweeted that the Maple Leafs had broken the camp into two groups. Then she tweeted out the rosters for each group.

Group 1: Lines and Pairings

Group 2: Lines and Pairings

Obviously Not Every One of These Players Will Be Around When the Ice Chips Melt

Keep in mind  that half of these players – well, less than half if Auston Matthews were healthy – will still be on the Maple Leafs’ roster for opening night versus Montreal. Although the actual starting lineup for that game might not look anything like the lineups Shilton tweeted, these combinations do offer fans an idea of what the Maple Leafs’ coaching staff is thinking.

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews injury offers other Maple Leafs’ players a chance to show their stuff
(Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Observation one, for example, starts right at the top with the Ilya Mikheyev/Alex Kerfoot/William Nylander combination. Looking back at the playoffs last season, after Tavares was hurt Kerfoot was moved up to center Nylander and Alex Galchenyuk. Those three ended up being the Maple Leafs’ best playoff line and totalled seven goals and 18 points during their time together. Now we see head coach Sheldon Keefe reuniting Kerfoot and Nylander and replacing the departed Galchenyuk with Mikheyev.

Although we expect Nylander to be reunited with Tavares once the roster is pared down, our guess is that we’ll likely see Kerfoot and Nylander together at times during the season. That increases Kerfoot’s flexibility and, ultimately, his value to the team. It likely solidifies Kerfoot’s roster spot.

Related: The NHL’s Top 100 Prospects – Preseason Rankings

Observation two, with the Nick Ritchie/Adam Brooks/Mitch Marner line, it appears Ritchie’s in the driver’s seat to get the left-wing role on the team’s top line. For Brooks, this is a good news/bad news scenario. The good news is he gets to show what he can do playing alongside a talented player like Marner. The bad news is that, usually when a player is temporarily put into the spot of a returning injured player, the purpose is to not disrupt the other line combinations. 

For now, it seems that Adams is not pencilled in for another line. If he plays well enough, that could change though. And, he’s a coin that keeps flipping. Still, Brooks has a chance to show the coaching staff he’s a high-value fill-in player.

Observation three, playing Michael Bunting and Josh Ho-Sang alongside Tavares shows they are also getting a chance to play with a talented player. That, at the very least, says they are being considered for top-six roles. 

John Tavares Toronto Maple Leafs
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Observation four, 26-year-old Krill Semyonov is interesting. He’s flown under the radar, so to speak. He’s signed to a two-way deal which pays $825,000 in the NHL, but only $80,000 in the AHL. It’s rumored he has a chance to play in the KHL if he doesn’t make the lineup. That seems almost like he’s on a hybrid PTO. Playing him between Pierre Engvall and Wayne Simmonds would appear that he’s competing with David Kampf to be the third- or fourth-line center.  

Observation five, playing Nick Robertson/Mike Amadio/Jason Spezza together suggests two things. First, Robertson isn’t likely one of the core players for this season. Second, Spezza isn’t playing center and will likely continue to be a bottom-six winger. Whether the composition of this line really means anything or not, who knows? And, where Amadio fits into the Leafs plans is up in the air. 

Related: Steve Yzerman, The Captain

Observation six, playing Nikita Gusev alongside Kampf and Kase looks as if he’s being considered for a bottom-six role. Given his proven scoring prowess, that might seem odd. Will he be moving to the Toronto Marlies to work on his development?

Observation seven, the fact that the rest of the forwards, Kurtis Gabriel, Mikhail Abramov, Curtis Douglas, Pavel Gogolev, Richard Clune, Brett Seney, Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, and Joey Anderson, are all playing together suggests they are already slotted to begin the season with the Marlies. 

Observations About the Maple Leafs’ Defense

Observation eight, on the defensive side, looking at the pairs in each group we see Morgan Rielly/Travis Dermott, Carl Dahlstrom/Justin Holl, Jake Muzzin/Timothy Liljegren, and Rasmus Sandin/T.J. Brodie. By pairing Muzzin with Liljegren and Sandin with Brodie, two veterans have been put alongside two young players. That seems to suggest that these youngsters are now being counted on to take the next steps in their development and crack this roster. Although we don’t expect to see these pairings to start the season, it might mean we’ll see them together at times during the season.

Toronto Maple Leafs Morgan Rielly
Toronto Maple Leafs Morgan Rielly celebrates with teammates (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)

Observation nine is more of a question. Does putting Rielly and Dermott together suggest that Dermott’s place on the roster will be on the right side? Dermott was quoted as saying, “Played the right side in the past and learned a lot from watching Brodes (TJ Brodie) last year. I learned a lot from him. If I get thrown in at a full season role I don’t think it would be too much for me.”  

Related: Maple Leafs’ Keefe: If Nylander’s Misunderstood, He Needs to Own It

Observation ten, playing Dahlstrom with Holl might mean that he has a leg up on the other players fighting for a roster spot. As noted before, he might become a valuable fill-in player for the team in a way Martin Marincin was in the past. Both are big and tall players who have NHL experience and won’t likely make huge gaffs defensively.

What Do These Groups Mean for the Maple Leafs’ Near Future?

One of those two groups or players will be playing in tonight’s first preseason game at home against the Montreal Canadiens. The other group will get the start in Montreal on Monday night. Maple Leafs’ fans should expect that, by Wednesday’s game in Ottawa, there will be completely different combinations.   

[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.]

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