The Toronto Maple Leafs will soon begin their 100th NHL season. In such a historic season, there is a whole lot more intrigue than just what history will bring. The Leafs will have their veterans this season, as any team does, but this season will be all about the young players that will be on the team. This is certainly a welcome change.
The Leafs used to be one of the worst teams at developing prospects. The John Ferguson Jr. years saw the team trade away multiple first-round picks for players that were closer to the end of their careers than the beginning. Brian Burke was a little better, but we all remember the Phil Kessel trade. Now, with Brendan Shanahan and Lou Lamoriello in charge, the Leafs are one of the better teams.
Last season, the Leafs saw 12 players make their NHL debuts. Those players were (in order of debut) Byron Froese, Garret Sparks, Brendan Leipsic, Viktor Loov, Zach Hyman, Kasperi Kapanen, William Nylander, Nikita Soshnikov, Rinat Valiev, Connor Brown, Frederik Gauthier and Tobias Lindberg. Now, we won’t be seeing all of those players on the team to start the season, obviously, but who will make the team?
As for as players that will be on the team for sure, it’s a very short list. Two players, Nylander and Auston Matthews, will be on the Leafs opening day roster. Nylander showed he belonged in the 22 games he played last season. The Leafs intended to send him back down, but injuries ensured Nylander stayed with the big club. He scored six goals and added 7 assists for 13 points in his time.
Not much has to be said about Matthews. The first overall pick in the 2016 Draft, he showed well as part of Team North America. In their three games, Matthews scored two goals and added one assist. Starting on the fourth line in the pre-tournament, he worked his way up to the first line, playing on a line with Connor McDavid and Mark Scheifele. His next step is with the Leafs and we’ll see how good he is.
The Wild Card
He should be a sure thing, but Mitch Marner could very well find his way back to London to start the season. There a few players, some of which could be mentioned later, that if they have a good pre-season could force the Leafs hand, especially if they’re waiver-eligible. If the Leafs don’t want to risk losing a player for nothing, they can make the easy decision to send Marner back to the OHL.
It might not make a lot of fans happy, but those are the rules. If Marner was allowed to play in the AHL this season, that would be taken a lot better. With the rules the way they are, Marner has to be pretty close to what he has been with the Knights on the Leafs. With the Leafs not expected to compete this year, it’s not like there is much of a difference whether he makes it or not.
Maybe, Maybe Not
After those three, things get a little messy. You have players that looked good during their time with the Leafs last season like Zach Hyman and Nikita Soshnikov. If there are open spots, you would have to think they have the upper hand. However, what about Connor Brown? He had six points in a seven-game stint after missing most of the season in the AHL. When does Josh Leivo get his chance to actually stay with the Leafs? Kasperi Kapanen is pretty close as well. The Leafs have a lot of youth coming and we haven’t even got to the defensemen yet.
Frankie Corrado spent half the season in the press box waiting for a chance and that only happened after Dion Phaneuf was traded. Will he get a chance on the third pairing? Connor Carrick looked good with the Leafs after being acquired and was one of, if not the Marlies’ best defensemen during their playoff run. Then you have a player like Valiev, who has jumped up the depth chart pretty quickly and is close to making the team full time. However, with the Leafs bringing in Nikita Zaitsev and the return of Roman Polak, who knows if any of them will get a long-term shot.
As for the goalies, the acquisitions of Frederik Andersen and Jhonas Enroth mean that Garret Sparks, Antoine Bibeau, and Kasmir Kaskisuo will be competing for jobs with the Marlies and not the Leafs.
So which youngsters do you think will make the team out of training camp? Have your say in the comment section below.
Toronto Maple Leafs Writer At The Hockey Writers.