Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Engvall, Johnsson, Captain, Nylander, More

The Toronto Maple Leafs roster will be reconstructed this offseason. Obviously, as a way to address the team’s salary cap limitations, general manager Kyle Dubas will likely trade some players (Nikita Zaitsev might be one), or simply not sign players to new contracts (Jake Gardiner and Ron Hainsey are the most likely).

As well, a number of RFAs need new contracts. Mitch Marner, Dubas announced, is the team’s first priority. However, Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen have shown enough potential that they will draw interest from other NHL teams and Dubas must make decisions about the team’s supporting cast. There’s speculation Johnsson and/or Kapanan might be traded. Certainly, what the duo commands elsewhere in salary might prohibit the team from signing them.

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Kasperi Kapanen

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Kasperi Kapanen (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Obviously, many unknowns surround the team. This news and rumors post considers some of those unknowns as well as keeping Maple Leafs fans up-to-date with other action.

Item One: Will Pierre Engvall Become a Two-Way Center?

The Toronto Marlies are battling in the Eastern Conference Final against the Charlotte Checkers. This series sees a number of Maple Leafs prospects in action. One is Pierre Engvall.

Related – Leafs News: Miller, Marner, Kapanen, Gardiner, Kadri

Engvall is a 22-year-old Swedish player drafted in the seventh round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Because of his size (he’s 6-foot-4), he was projected to become a big-body, scoring winger. However, Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe has been playing Engvall as a two-way center, both on the power play and the penalty kill.

This season, Engvall played about half his games at centre. Recently, he’s played between Dmytro Timashov (who’s in his third season with the Marlies) and Egor Korshkov (who signed an entry-level contract with the Maple Leafs on May 1).

The line is producing offensively, and Engvall notes that it’s “a more … fancy line.” _(from ‘Marlies test bigger plans for Engvall in Calder Cup run’, The Star – 5/21/19)_

Engvall notes: “I like to be a centre. I feel like once I get the puck, I can use my speed even more. I like to carry the puck, too. I get to do that more as a centre.”

If the experiment works, the Maple Leafs need more size and depth at center. Good luck. If I’m correct about what I believe will happen with the Maple Leafs roster, it will be made up of an expensive core of star players and several less-expensive, bottom-six forwards. Engvall might become an inexpensive alternative.

Item Two: Should the Maple Leafs Trade Andreas Johnsson?

In his The Leafs Nation post, writer Drag Like Pull outlines why he believes it would be good for the Maple Leafs to trade Andreas Johnsson this offseason. Such a move would allow the team to take advantage of the difference between Johnsson’s “perceived” value to other teams and his “actual” value to the Maple Leafs.

Boston Bruins Charlie McAvoy Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews Andreas Johnsson Ron Hainsey
Boston Bruins Charlie McAvoy is covered by Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews, Andreas Johnsson and Ron Hainsey (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

He believes Johnsson’s season was a positive aberration, and his scoring will likely come back to Earth next season if he remains in a Maple Leafs uniform. However, after his successful 2018-19 season, Johnsson’s trade value might be as high as it will ever be. If that’s so, the Maple Leafs would be wise to move him at a time when other teams over-value him and might offer more in return than Johnsson’s actually worth.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Johnsson Proving Draft Position Doesn’t Matter

Certainly, Johnsson has been rumored as a trade possibility. Watching what Dubas does with the team’s RFAs will reveal much about how he’s decided to rebuild the team.

Item Three: The Toronto Marlies Lose Game 3 at Home

Their success was too good to last. After eight straight wins in the Calder Cup Playoffs, the Toronto Marlies now have lost two games in a row. They completely fell apart to lose 5-3 after taking a three-goal lead in a Game 2 loss to the Checkers in Charlotte. Then, they did little in a 5-1 Game 3 loss on home ice. They trail 2-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Neither Marlies goalie (Kasimir Kaskisuo or Michael Hutchinson) played well in Game 3. Until these games, Kaskisuo had been strong throughout the playoffs. However, Hutchinson will likely become the starter when the team plays Game 4. He had a stronger regular season.

Item Four: Who Might Become the Maple Leafs Captain?

In his May 22 post, my THW colleague Alex O’Reilly wrote a thoughtful piece about who he believes should become the Maple Leafs’ next captain. He noted that it’s been over three years since Dion Phaneuf was traded to the Ottawa Senators, and the Maple Leafs haven’t named a captain since.

Related: Suspension of Kadri has Trickle-Down Effect for Maple Leafs

He believes three players have a realistic shot at being the Maple Leafs’ next captain: Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Morgan Rielly. Although Tavares seems an appealing option because he’s been a captain before with the New York Islanders and thrived in the job, O’Reilly believes Matthews and Rielly make more sense because they’ve been with the team longer.

Auston Matthews, Mike Babcock
Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews sits on the boards as head coach Mike Babcock gestures to his players on the ice. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

I agree with his post; and, I’d like to add the possibility of considering Marner as captain once he’s been signed. In my mind, as the New York Yankee’s Reggie Jackson is credited to have said, Marner’s “the straw that stirs the (Maple Leafs) drink.”

Item Five: William Nylander’s Scoring Success at the World Championships

The Maple Leafs William Nylander is currently tied for the scoring lead at the 2019 World Championships. After seven games, he has five goals and 12 assists for 17 points. That ties him at the top of the leaderboard with Nikita Kucherov (Team Russia and the Tampa Bay Lightning) and Jakub Voracek (Team Czech Republic and the Philadelphia Flyers). That’s good company.

Toronto Maple Leafs William Nylander and Detroit Red Wings Niklas Kronwall
Toronto Maple Leafs William Nylander and Detroit Red Wings defenceman Niklas Kronwall (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

Although Sweden lost to Russia 7-4 on Tuesday, Nylander added a goal and an assist. He’s scoring at a pace of almost 2.5 points per game. And, as I noted in an earlier post, Nylander seems to be getting his swagger back. That’s good news for the Maple Leafs.

Related – William Nylander’s Redemption: Perhaps It’s Not Too Late

What’s Next?

I’m anxious to see what happens with the Marlies and the Checkers in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Final series. However, I’m also anxious to see what happens after that series has been completed.

I can’t know this for a fact, but I’m guessing Dubas is both watching the Marlies play and regularly negotiating with Marner’s agents. I might also guess that no announcement with salary cap implications will be made until this series has been completed. Maple Leafs fans will soon see.