TORONTO- The Toronto Maple Leafs may have been the worst team in the NHL last season, but Leafs Nation was okay with that. Tank Nation may have paid off for the Maple Leafs as they won the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery and drafted Auston Matthews with the first overall pick. The Maple Leafs may have found their new one centre and face of the franchise since Mats Sundin. But that wasn’t the only bold move that general manager Lou Lameriello made during the offseason. Frederick Andersen came from the Anaheim Ducks to reach his potential as a number one goaltender. With a new goaltender, a new superstar in the making and a nucleus of young highly skilled player, the Maple Leafs are heading in the right direction. Head Coach Mike Babcock should be pleased as his team is heading in the right direction.
The Maple Leafs struggled to score goals last season. P.A. Perenteau was their lone 20-goal scorer and now he’s no longer with the team. James Van Reimsdyk was on pace to have a career year with 14 goals in 40 games, however his season was cut short due to a broken leg. Nazem Kadri continues to struggled to find some consistency. Tyler Bozak is clearly not a number one centre. And Jeoffrey Lupul’s injury bug just can’t seem to be going away.
On the bright side, the Maple Leafs may have found their next “Big Three” on their offensive side. Over their last three years, the Maple Leafs have spend their last three first round picks to draft highly skilled players with William Nylander in 2014, Mitch Marner in 2015 and Auston Matthews last June. Nylander led the Toronto Marlies in scoring last season as saw little NHL season as a call up in April. Marner was the CHL’s most valuable player last season with 123 points. Matthews However, they all have little or no experience in the NHL and will all go through some growing pains. Leafs Nations should be excited about all of the young kids that are entering this season. It would be fun to watch.
Like their offense, their defense struggled to prevent opposing teams’ scoring opportunities. On the other hand, Dion Phanuef is gone and Morgan Rielly showed the potential to be a very skillful defensemen in the NHL right now. Rielly led all Leafs defeneemen with 36 goals last year and will look to be the elite blue liner that they were hoping for. Babcock helped Jake Gardiner to have a solid production season 31points. There are some concerns as to who will be a top paring defensive to play along side with Rielly. They did brought back Roman Polak to be a veteran presence. Nikita Zaitsev was signed during the offseason and presents a potential to help the blue line.
Frederick Andersen have shown flashes with the Anahiem Ducks before the Ducks decided to go with John Gibson to be their number one goalie. The Ducks were willing to part ways with Andersen and the Maple Leafs took full advantage. Andersen allowed 2.30 goals per game with a .920 save percentage. Seems that the Maple Leafs have upgraded their goaltender over the inconsistent Jonathan Bernier, who was traded to the Ducks. The question is who will be Andersen’s backup? Jhonas Enroth will be the backup for now, but look for Garret Sparks and Antione Bibeau to see some action in case there is an injury.
Mike Babock should be pleased with all of the young players he has on his roster. The team has speed, size and the intangibles. The question is can Babcock lead his team to the postseason with so many youth on his roster? He may have won the Stanley Cup with proven veterans, but he will have a workload coaching kids.
Leafs Nations should be please on how president Brendan Shanahan and Lamoriello turn their franchise around. Drafting highly skilled players, clearing cap space and development. It seems that the management may have speed up their rebuild just a little. But both have done a great job in implementing of their overhaul rebuild plans.
As exciting to see Matthew, Marner and Nylander playing together, the team are just not ready to be a major contenders to compete for the Stanley Cup. Its going to take some time and development to get the young players acclimated into Babcock’s system. But there are no questions that the Leafs are heading in the right direction. It will be curious to see how this youthful team builds their chemistry. They have the potential to be the next Chicago Blackhawks, but there are just not their yet. Leaf Nations need to be patient, but it will paid off eventually.
Prediction: 8th in Atlantic Division, 15th in the Eastern Conference.