The Toronto Maple Leafs look nothing like the team that came out of April. With some significant changes in the offseason, the Leafs have a long road ahead of them. As hockey season comes closer, let’s look at your 2019-2020 Toronto Maple Leafs.
Kyle Dubas made some much-needed changes to the Leafs, clearing cap space and making the team better for a long playoff run. Letting Nazem Kadri go was a tough choice alongside forwards Patrick Marleau, Tyler Ennis and Connor Brown, defensemen Nikita Zaitsev, Ron Hainsey and Calle Rosen. However, with the addition of some key players, noting right-handed defenseman Tyson Barrie and forwards like Alex Kerfoot, Jason Spezza, Nick Shore and other depth players, the team only improved.
Projected Forward Lines
Andreas Johnsson – Auston Matthews – William Nylander
Trevor Moore – John Tavarares – Mitch Marner
Ilya Mikheyev – Alex Kerfoot – Kasperi Kapanen
Nick Petan – Jason Spezza – Jeremy Bracco
With the depth the Leafs have, this 2019-2020 forward lineup is likely to go through many changes as the season progresses. Zach Hyman has been a key player in the rebuild and a key player for the Leafs these past three seasons and with his return scheduled for November due to a torn ACL, this will only add to the competition for a full-time spot on the roster.
With the returning forwards locking up their spots on the roster and Jason Spezza and Alex Kerfoot assuming their role as the bottom two centres, it leaves two spots available for grabs in September come training camp.
First up Jeremy Bracco, who has been in the Leafs organization for a considerable amount of time. The 21-year-old winger displayed an exceptional season with the Leafs AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, recording 79 points in 75 games and accompanied them to a championship the season before. He hopes to make it out of training camp with a spot on the NHL team.
Then there’s free agent Ilya Mikhelyov from Russia who looks to be a big contributor to the Leafs and their success. In 224 games, he had 120 points, 62 goals and 58 assists with the KHL and there’s something about him that head coach Mike Babcock is particularly fond of. One can only say where he stands in the lineup, but performance will dictate how he grows in the organization.
Other notable players like Nick Shore, Pontus Aberg and Kenny Agostino who the Leafs signed during free agency can be depth players the Leafs will need in the long run.
All in all, the Maple Leafs have one of the league’s most dynamic and bold forward groups coming into the 2019-2020 NHL season and hope to take advantage of the star-studded group when the season commences.
Projected Defense Pairings
Morgan Rielly – Tyson Barrie
Jake Muzzin – Cody Ceci
Rasmus Sandin – Timothy Liljegren
The addition of Tyson Barrie significantly changed the landscape on the right side of the defence and things are looking brighter with final preparations now underway. Both Rielly and Barrie combined for 131 points last season, which says this pairing could be the most dangerous offensive pairing in the league.
With the second pairing, things can change. Travis Dermott, who suffered a shoulder injury late in the season, is most likely to return in November and will likely assume a top four spot for the Maple Leafs when the puck drops. As for Jake Gardiner who has been with the Leafs since 2011, it looks like he won’t be returning to the organization after eight years. That leaves Jake Muzzin who was a sweet pickup from the LA Kings last season.
He will be perfectly suited for the right side of the defence on the second pairing. The Rielly – Muzzin line could return this season after being used late last season, however, with both Rielly and Muzzin being left-handed defenseman, things are looking pretty much the same for the left side.
Cody Ceci, who the Leafs picked up from Ottawa after trading Connor Brown and Nikita Zaitsev, signed a one-year contract worth $4.5 million just three days after having been acquired. Ceci averaged 23 minutes a game for the last three seasons, but Ottawa was outscored 156-218 when Ceci was on the ice. Ceci can be a liability this season, but time will tell just how he fits in with the Leafs.
Both Ramus Sandin and Timothy Liljergren are defensemen for the Toronto Marlies. Liljegren, who was the Leafs first-round pick in 2017, suffered from injuries early on in his career, however, when he is healthy, he is often playing in the top pair and totalled 15 points in 43 games. Rasmus Sandin has been blowing up the AHL after recovering from injuries early in the season.
At just 19-years-old, it might be too early for his NHL debut, but he is well beyond his years. Both are key players to this team and we will be seeing them both on the Leafs sooner than later.
The Leafs have a little playing room for the right side of the defense with Ben Harpur, Martin Marincin and Justin Holl, saying that there are minor changes throughout the season. Looking at defence, there is still a little work to be done if the Leafs want to be cup contenders.
With Garret Sparks off to Vegas, Michael Hutchinson would assume the backup position behind starting goaltender Frederick Anderson. The goaltending department looks like it won’t go through any major changes as Anderson has been solid for the Leafs in his past three seasons with a .918, .918 and .917 save percentage in those three years. If Anderson stays healthy, there is no concern for starting goaltending.
I believe that if Auston Matthews is healthy for 82 games, he could tally up 50 goals. In his first season, he scored 40 goals which is elite for a rookie as he was. The following two seasons, injuries came into play, however, he still managed to score 34 goals in the 62 games he played in the 2017-2018 season. Last season, he scored 37 goals in a total of 68 games. Auston Matthews is due for a career season and this season might just be it.
If things go according to plan and Marner is set to play for the full season, there’s little to no doubt he is going to be the team’s new point leader. He and Tavares were one of the best duos on the ice last season and Marner had a career season with 68 assists and 26 goals. I believe Marner can exceed that total, making this season his best one yet.
William Nylander hit a tough spot in his career, signing late in the season and never really get his foot out the door, so you can call this season redemption season for Nylander. Having seven goals to his name in 54 games was not ideal, but as last season progressed, there were hints that the Nylander we know was back. All he needs is a fresh start to show the media and the hockey world just how good he is.
Being alongside Matthews in his second season in the league and a little bit of last season displayed what chemistry both have when they’re on the ice together. If these two get their groove back and head coach Babcock keeps them together, William Nylander will have himself a season that he not only wants, but needs.
The goal for this season?
Make it past the first round.
The Leafs have all the working parts and near-perfect team to make it through to the finals. For the last three seasons, their playoff dreams came to a conclusion in the postseason’s first round. With their forwards, defensemen and the goalies, they have what it takes to contend and move on.
The Atlantic Division is just getting harder and harder. Every team in that division has something going for them which means it’s going to be tougher than it looks. The Leafs should be on pace for a third consecutive 100-point season. The action starts on October second when the Toronto Maple Leafs host the Ottawa Senators and it’s always good to get started on the right path.