2017-2018 Toronto Maple Leafs Season Preview

(Courtesy of Bruce Bennett, Gettys Images)

TORONTO- The long overhaul rebuild may have paid off dramatically for the Toronto Maple Leafs. When Brendan Shanahan was named team president and CEO in 2014, he had a vision and that vision was to build a team by drafting and developing young and talented players. Last season the Maple Leafs opened up the season with six rookies including the 2016 overall pick and rookie of the year, Auston Matthews. And in result, the young squad did the unthinkable by clinching the playoffs. So it seems that Shanahan’s rebuild plan may have been worth the wait for die hard Maple Leafs fans.

After the youth fought a hard and gusty battle against the Washington Capitals during their playoff run, their tremendous performance proved that the Maple Leafs are for real and they could bring the Stanley Cup back to Toronto for the first time since 1967.

The signings of three veterans free agents with the likes of Patrick Marleau, Dominic Moore and Ron Hainsey should help the youth move forward to their Stanley Cup dreams.

Forwards

Auston Matthews is their new face of the franchise and number one centre that they been searching after Mats Sundin left the Maple Leafs in 2008. The twenty-years-old set a franchise record with 40 goals and 69 points. But Matthews wasn’t the only impressive rookie for the Maple Leafs. Mitch Marner and William Nylander each had 61 points as rookies and displayed their high ceiling potential last season. The Maple Leafs still have their key veterans like James Van Reimsdyk, who contributed with 29 goals and 62 points, and Nazeem Kadri, who had a career year with 32 goals and 61 points. Marleau maybe 38, but he still remains a reliable goal scorer after scoring 27 with the San Jose Sharks last season. Look for Kasperi Kapanen to fight for a spot in the fourth line after he played really well late last season and playoffs.

Defense

Jake Gardner improved his play dramatically since Mike Babcock took over as head coach two years ago. Gardiner establish a career high with 43 points and improved his defense. Nikita Zaitsev was so impressive during his rookie season that he signed a long term contract for the next seven years. Morgan Reilly still have the potential to be a top pairing and mobile defenseman. Ron Hainsey should play a major role for this youthful blue line. The 36-years-old should help by sharing his Stanley Cup experience with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Goaltenders

Frederik Andersen played a career high 66 games during his first full season with the Maple Leafs. He had a save percentage at .918 and four shutouts. Andresen proved that he can be a number one goaltender on any team. Backup Curtis McElhinney should be reliable if Andersen needs a day off once in awhile.

Special Teams

The improved power play made strides after finishing second in the NHL in power play goals. Nylander led the team with 26 power play points while Matthews and Marner each had 21 points. Their penalty killing got significantly better with Zach Hyman leading the way with the most shorthanded goals. Roman Polak and Matt Hunwick logged a tons of PK minutes. While Polak could be back with the team after signing a tryout contract, Hainsey should look to take over in the PK unit.

Coaching and Management

There’s nothing to complain about the job the the Maple Leafs front office done over the last few years. Shanahan was probably the best thing that ever happen for Leafs Nation. He brought in one of the NHL’s greatest head coach in Mike Babcock and Lou Lamoriello is one tough negotiator as their general manager. Babcock just transformed his team to the absolute worst into the absolute threats in the NHL.

Summary

The Maple Leafs are set up to contend for the next decade. While there will be questions as to whether or not Matthews, Marner or Nylander could hit the sophomore slumps. They should come into their second seasons with even higher expectations. Leafs nation saw a glimpse of their potential during their playoff run last year. Now it should be interested to see how far they can reach their potential.

Prediction: Finished 2nd in the Atlantic Division and make it to the Eastern Conference Semi-finals.

 

 

Advertisements

2016 Toronto Maple Leafs Draft Preview

(Courtesy of Maple Leafs Instagram)

(Courtesy of Maple Leafs Instagram)

TORONTO- The Toronto Maple Leafs are on the clock. The team will enter the 2016 NHL Draft with 11 draft picks, including the first overall selection.

During the 2015-2016 NHL season, the first year of the Maple Leafs’ overhaul rebuild, the team was bad. Really bad. They were a dull team that was doomed for failure. Head Coach Mike Babcock warned everyone that pain was coming.

President Brendan Shanahan was brought to the Maple leafs with an idea of a complete rebuild. Drafting and development were the key ingredients to turn this franchise around. They got rid of David Clarkson, Phil Kessel and captain Dion Phanuef to stockpile young prospects and draft picks. So the tear down complete, but the rebuild continues until they get back to the playoffs.

The 2016 NHL Draft Lottery was held on April 30th. After painful season of losing and misery, the Maple Leafs’ luck panned out and received the first overall pick for 2016. This is the 2nd time that the Leafs selected first overall since 1985 when they selected Wendel Clark.

Not only do the Leafs hold the first pick, but thanks to the work of team management, they hold a grand total of 11 draft picks (they used the 30th overall selection to acquired G Frederick Andersen from Anaheim Ducks).

Team Strengths:

Young Highly Skilled Prospects:

William Nylander and Mitch Marner are two of the top NHL Prospects. The two have the greatest potential to become game-changers and be among the league leaders in points. They, along with the 2016 first overall pick, will be relied upon to lead the Leafs to success.

Solid Depth of Impact Wingers

With James Van Reimdsyk on the team, the Maple Leafs have multiple depth of veterans and  youngster at the wing position. Connor Brown, Kasperi Kapanen, Brendan Leipsic and Jeremy Bracco represent a plethora of prospects who could be future second or third line wingers.

Teams Needs:

1) First Line Centre

The Maple Leafs can cross this off their checklist as it is very clear that they are going to take Auston Matthews. Although the Maple Leafs have stockpile a lot of young talent, there remains a lack of potential first or second line centers. William Nylander and Mitch Marner have played some centre during their development. However it seems like they are profile as wingers going forward. With the first overall pick, and likely Matthews, that department should be shored up.

2) Potential Top Pairing Defenceman

While Carrick and Zaitsev certainly have promising potential, the Maple Leafs don’t have a sure-fire, blue-chip prospect. With three picks in the first 31 at this year’s draft, one should be used to select an all-around defenceman to pair up with Morgan Rielly.

Most Likely Target:  Auston Matthews, C, Zurich Lions (Switzerland)

Matthews was a consensus to go first overall in this upcoming draft. He has the potential to become a franchise center that the Maple Leafs didn’t have since Mats Sundin. Matthews offers a complete game with skills, talent and poise. He has an electric shot which fires through traffic He is a creative player with a tremendous hockey IQ which allows him to have incredible vision and developing plays to create his own scoring chances or involving his teammates. Matthews is a strong skater with great speed. Matthews is a kind of player, who offers the Leafs a generational type player to build around with. He certainly has the ability to be a game changer and could make an immediate impact for the 2016-2017 season.

What Else Could Happen?

Look for the Leafs to trade veterans like Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul and Jonathan Bernier to make more cap space and stockpile more young talent. With eleven picks, they can also trade some of their picks to move up in the draft or add more help in the blue line or add depth in the middle or goaltending.

Draft Strategy:

The Maple Leafs certainly have the tendencies to draft North American prospects, but GM Lou Lamoriello isn’t afraid to take a risk on a couple European prospects, especially from Sweden.. Look for the Maple Leafs to draft towards more skilled players as opposing to big and hard-hitting players. They rather go more skilled players than size and strength. They love creative players who can play a responsible to play two-way, not one-dimensional.