There is hope both inside the Toronto Maple Leafs’ team and with their fans that this might be the year the team could finally break through and win their first Stanley Cup since 1967. The team is playing well as the mid-season approaches; the young stars are shining brightly; and William Nylander is back and getting into shape.
Because the Maple Leafs have both a core of players that can help them make a strong Stanley Cup run and the cap space to sign a veteran approaching the trade deadline, it seems likely the team will make a trade as the deadline approaches. In this post, I want to consider what Maple Leafs’ currently playing with the Toronto Marlies might become “trade bait” to get a rental player who might help the team on its Stanley Cup run.
In my previous post, I reviewed the young Toronto Marlies’ forwards who might be traded for a rental player. In Part Two, I will take a look at what defensemen prospects might be traded.
Young 18-year-old, Swedish defenseman Rasmus Sandin was selected in the first-round, 29th overall, by the Maple Leafs in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Few defensemen are as young as Sandin, because of age restrictions on AHL players; but, he’s producing well at age 18, and that’s impressive. Once not known as a terrific skater, his skating has improved. With the Marlies this year, he has 10 points (five goals and five assists) in 18 games.
Subban, now 23-years-old, was selected by the Vancouver Canucks in the fourth round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Like brother PK Subban, he’s an offensive defenseman whose “skill” is embodied in his hockey sense. He’s a mobile and speedy skater, who has an ability to make small, meaningful plays on the wall and in the defensive zone. Although he checks hard, his size limits his physical power.
What makes him a potentially strong defender, despite his size, is his ability to read what’s going to happen in the play and cut off both passing and shooting lanes. He needs to work more on his defensive; but, his offensive game has exceptional potential. With the Marlies this year, he has eight points (two goals and six assists) in 19 games.
Swedish defenseman Calle Rosén plays well both defensively and offensively, with skills at both ends. He’s a good skater, puck handler, and shooter. He thinks the game well and, other than his lack of professional experience, displays few weaknesses.
When the 24-year-old Rosén signed a two-year contract extension with Toronto two weeks ago, it was a one-way deal (interestingly, with a pay cut). This means that the Maple Leafs will give him more NHL time. Experts suggest that signing Rosén probably means that Martin Marincin’s future with the Maple Leafs will be short (the 26-year-old Marincin becomes an unrestricted free agent after this season). With the Marlies this year, Rosén has 21 points (two goals and 19 assists) in 28 games. In four games with the Maple Leafs in October, he has one assist.
Andreas Borgman, another Swedish defenseman currently playing with the Marlies, was moved down last year so Travis Dermott could get a look with the big club. That Dermott is still around and getting better suggests that the Maple Leafs believe they made the correct choice – Dermott over Borgman.
Although only six-feet, Borgman is one of those heavy skaters Babcock likes. He’s a physical two-way defenseman – heavy and hard to move. He’s strong on the puck and on his skates, and wins a lot of puck battles. He also has good offensive instincts and a hard shot. With the Marlies this year, he has 13 points (three goals and 10 assists) in 26 games.
The 19-year-old Liljegren has a huge upside, but his current high ankle sprain has taken him off the ice. Sadly, he won’t be available to play for Team Sweden in the 2019 World Junior Championships where he was expected to have a significant role. Although Liljegren hasn’t had ice time at the NHL level in 2018-19, until his injury he’s had a strong second year with the Marlies, scoring eight points (two goals and six assists) in 19 games.
The Maple Leafs have a number of good, young defense prospects another team might want to pry from them in a trade for a rental. Both fans and experts believe the team’s greatest deficiency is on defense, yet the Maple Leafs seem well-positioned for the future with the prospects they have in their system.
Some of these young players are likely to become strong NHL players – although, perhaps, not quite yet. Balancing he needs of the now with the promise of the future can be a difficult balance for any general manager. It will be interesting to see how Kyle Dubas plays it.