The 2017 NHL Expansion Draft is finally over and each team comes away with one less player. For teams like the Nashville Predators and the Pittsburgh Penguins, they lost a key part of their lineup in James Neal and Marc-Andre Fleury. Other teams had to trade draft picks to the Vegas Golden Knights so that they could sway Vegas’ choice.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are one of the few teams to come out of the expansion draft unscathed. The Leafs didn’t lose a core player or need to resort to trading draft picks and they didn’t even lose an NHL roster player. The Leafs lost Toronto Marlies’ player Brendan Leipsic to Vegas and no one should be worried by it.
What the Maple Leafs Lose in Leipsic
Although the Leafs avoided losing an NHL roster player, they did lose one of their top forwards in the AHL. This season Leipsic finished second in Marlies’ scoring with 51 points (18 goals) in 49 games. He certainly would’ve finished with a career high in points if he hadn’t sustained multiple injuries throughout the season.
In his three seasons in the AHL, Leipsic has been a consistent 50 point player and one of the more promising forwards in the league. This was a good player that the Leafs lost that certainly looks to be a future NHLer based on his point totals in the AHL. Where he plays in an NHL lineup is still in question with concerns about his defensive game.
Scott Wheeler of the Pension Plan Puppets transcribed the Marlies’ locker room clean out interviews in which Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe talked about Leipsic.
He had some really dominant stretches of play this season that show that his skillset, his abilities are beyond this level but he also continues to be a guy that shows the other side and can be careless or irresponsible with the puck – Sheldon Keefe
Leipsic is still a young player at just 23 years old, but he’s running out of time to prove that he can be an NHL player. So far his only NHL experience has been six games with the Leafs last season in which he had three points. A player that is in a way comparable is Marlies teammate Seth Griffith.
Now Griffith is a year older, but they share many similarities. Both are small wingers at 5’9, are quick and exceptionally skilled with the puck. The problem is that the step to the NHL from the AHL is a big one. Players that are dominant offensively in the AHL can struggle to put up similar numbers or even make the NHL at all. Griffith has been fantastic at the AHL level, but he’s shown that he can’t hold a spot in the NHL.
Only time will tell if Leipsic can become an NHL regular for Vegas.
Can Leipsic Be Replaced?
For players under the age of 24, Leipsic had the third highest points per game in the AHL. Is this a player that can be easily replaced by talent already within the organization?
In terms of left-wing depth in the Leafs organization, Leipsic was ideally the next in line for a spot in the NHL. Now that he’s gone who else do the Leafs have that can replace his AHL production while also looking like a future NHLer? Surprisingly there are quite a few.
The Leafs already have great depth on the wing with players like Kasperi Kapanen or Griffith that could challenge for a spot on the Leafs next season, but this is more about looking at left-wingers specifically. Kerby Rychel and Andreas Johnsson easily fit that bill. Rychel led the Marlies in points this season with 52 points in 73 games, while Johnsson had 47 points in 75 games.
Then there’s Carl Grundstrom and Miro Aaltonen, who both have a great chance of making the Leafs roster next season assuming there is even room for them.
The Leafs drafted Grundstrom in the second round last year and is already looking like the best pick, besides Auston Matthews of course. Grundstrom had 14 goals and 20 points in 45 games in the SHL last season. He then came to the Marlies in time for the playoffs and registered four points in six games.
Aaltonen is a player that the Leafs quietly signed in March and even though he is 24 years old he looks like a player that can make an immediate impact. Playing in the KHL this past season, Aaltonen finished with 44 points in 59 games and was 20th in KHL scoring.
Losing Leipsic may seem like a major blow to the Leafs’ prospect pool and to their left-wing depth, but that couldn’t be further from the truth as there are multiple players that can already replace him.