The Maple Leafs have faced some extremely tough competition. They took on the likes of the scorching hot Tampa Bay Lightning, the league leading Washington Capitals and the solid Minnesota Wild. The Buds lost all three of the games, but there were some definite positives associated with each loss.
For instance, the Leafs weren’t blown out in any of their games. They held Tampa to a pair, Washington to three and Minnesota to two. It was a surprise considering that most of the roster was made up of players 25 and under, including many of them being Marlies who were called up.
Speaking of those Marlies, they have given Maple Leafs fans a legitimate reason to be excited with regards to the last handful of games. It’s the future of the franchise and it is finally on display at the highest level for all to see. There have been three young players who have left a definite and lasting impression.
Zach Hyman is a versatile forward who is being given his first taste of NHL action with the Maple Leafs. The former Michigan standout was a pick of the Florida Panthers back in 2010. He didn’t play a single game for the Panthers and was later shipped to the Maple Leafs in exchange for Greg McKegg.
Hyman is a solid penalty killer down with the AHL’s Marlies. He had a bit of trouble finding his offensive, but he definitely picked it up and at the time of his call up, he had 13 goals and 33 points.
Brooks Laich says Zach Hyman reminds him of T.J. Oshie; "The way he competes on the puck, goes to the net, plays in the hard areas"
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) March 3, 2016
While he hasn’t yet managed to score his first NHL goal or point, he has demonstrated his work ethic and willingness to forecheck. He’s been the recipient of a few bigs hits, but has made a play with each one. He’s also a player who drives possession numbers for himself and for his team. Hyman is turning into a valuable player for the young Maple Leafs.
The more experience he gets the better and when the Leafs are looking for players to fill out the roster next year, you can bet Hyman will be in the conversation.
Kasperi Kapanen will always have to live with being part of the Phil Kessel deal. There is simply no way around that particular fact. Kapanen looked electric at points in his debut against the Lightning and almost potted a couple of goals. He also had an absolutely filthy dangle which showcased how much potential he has.
There were also moments that highlighted just how young and inexperienced Kapanen is. There were some bad giveaways, no look passes and a few plays where he didn’t showcase the necessary effort. Kapanen is also incredibly young and will be prone to make mistakes.
Fans shouldn’t discount his value, however. He had a slow start to his Marlies career before heading overseas to play for Finland at the World Junior championships. He won the gold medal with a gorgeous overtime goal against Russia and when he returned to the AHL, he continued his scoring streak. If he keeps developing, he should be a valuable member of the big club in the coming years.
When it was announced that William Nylander was being called up, there was an uproar of excitement. Through the three games, he’s had a good impact and has showcased flashes of his immense talent.
However, there has been one prospect who has caught my eye even more–the young Russian forward, Nikita Soshnikov. The former KHLer was signed last spring by the Maple Leafs. He had a huge game against the NHL leading Washington Capitals, where he scored a goal, added six hits, and got under the skin of the Caps all night long.
Nikita Soshnikov will never forget his first NHL goal and we won't forget his celebration. #NHLFirsts #TORvsWSHhttps://t.co/JEjLXBzpKy
— NHL (@NHL) March 3, 2016
He’s a smooth skating forward who isn’t shy when it comes to the rougher aspects of the game. He was crashing and banging all night and has developed s more physical edge playing in North America. His goal also showcased an accurate and heavy shot that can only be viewed as a positive.
The Maple Leafs management and coaching can only be happy about what they’ve seen so far out of their young guns. It’s important to keep in mind that these players should be viewed as a work in process, much like the current rebuild. These players are being given the chance to get their feet wet at the highest level of hockey and it can only help both themselves and the team further down the road.