The Toronto Maple Leafs have yet to begin their 2016-17 regular season, but many fans already have their eyes firmly set on the future. For starters, the Leafs are going to deploy a young and skilled lineup for most of the coming season. That roster will feature the likes of 2014 eighth overall pick William Nylander and 2016 first overall selection Auston Matthews.
Mitch Marner, the London Knights standout forward, will also likely make the roster. He’s been dynamic in preseason action and has shown flashes of the elite player he could become. That includes making plays without the puck, which Marner has excelled at early on.
Anchoring the blueline are a couple of familiar faces in Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner. New Leaf Nikita Zaitsev has also impressed and should make the final cut. Beyond those three, the defense core tends to thin out. Based on the Maple Leafs’ need for high-quality defensemen, they should be looking to draft Timothy Liljegren in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
The 4-1-1 on Tim Liljegren
For many, including myself, it seems like just yesterday that the Maple Leafs were stepping up to the podium to call out Matthews as the first overall pick. Now the focus shifts to adding another highly touted piece to their blueline.
The old adage is that defense wins championships. Rielly is a huge part of that core now and will be in the near future, but the Maple Leafs still need more support. That’s where Swedish sensation Liljegren comes into play.
Liljegren, a defenseman currently playing with Rogle in Sweden, has drawn rave reviews for his style of play. He’s a game-breaking talent that is capable of making huge plays in either zone. He possesses excellent vision and is an extremely smart player whenever he hits the ice. His skating is effortless and he has drawn comparisons to some NHL stars including Norris Trophy-winning blueliners Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson.
How the Maple Leafs Can Draft Him
Liljegren is an elite talent in the upcoming draft. Many are predicting a close fight for the first overall selection between him and Nolan Patrick, the star for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL.
Ideally, the Maple Leafs would finish in the bottom five of the league and have a shot at securing that number two overall pick, where I believe Liljegren will fall come the draft. In order for that to happen, the Maple Leafs will need to have another rebuilding year.
Timothy Liljegren showing amazing puck skills for a defenseman, as he casually strolls thru the offensive zone. A huge talent. #IvanHlinka
— Adam Kosnáč (@scoooty27) August 9, 2016
Some people would hesitate on that front. The Buds revamped their team this past summer. They acquired Frederik Andersen, Auston Matthews and more. There’s now a clear reason for optimism in Toronto.
The smart play, however, is to wait another year and keep rebuilding. They have put some excellent pieces in place, but properly rebuilding a franchise takes time and patience. That will mean finishing in the bottom five this coming season.
No one is calling for the Maple Leafs to tank for the pick. Head coach Mike Babcock is going to whip his squad into shape and have them play the best that they possibly can to win as many games as they can.
However, you need skilled prospects to build your franchise around. It’s extremely difficult to get those if you finish just out of a playoff spot and end up drafting 14th overall.
Timothy Liljegren today showed a first time what he can do at the #IvanHlinka's first game. Great skater and puckhandler. #2017nhldraft #SWE
— Dennis Schellenberg (@ScoutingFactory) August 8, 2016
Brendan Shanahan has been preaching patience since the day he took over the Maple Leafs. If you want to rebuild the franchise and bring it into a new era of glory, you need to stick to your guns and rebuild slowly through the draft.
Make no mistake, it’s going to be an exciting season in Toronto. It’s the Centennial year and there are many talented youngsters on the roster. The overall goal is to contend for the Stanley Cup. Disappointment in the present translates to success in the future. Putting on a good show while getting that high draft pick should be the priority of the Maple Leafs this upcoming year.