Opening Night Roster: Season Outlook
After a long hiatus due to a fairly inactive off-season as well as personal time constraints due to school among other things, we're back at it analyzing the Leafs' opening night roster and providing an outlook on what the season could bring. I'll also be going over possible line combinations to begin the year as well. As always, feel free to comment and discuss, and enjoy!
The last couple days have brought on a couple rounds of cuts, along with a surprising waiver claim. These cuts show the direction the Leafs want to head for this season and how they will do it with a skilled, developing core of players. The biggest surprise cut was Brooks Laich. It seemed to me that Laich would make the team out of training camp, and provide a veteran leadership presence and really mentor the young players on how to be leaders at the NHL level. Laich was loaned to the Marlies for the upcoming season, but an injury here or there and he will likely be one of the first players called up. The second piece of news is the waiver claim of Seth Griffith. Griffith spent last season with the Providence Bruins of the AHL and recorded 77 points in 57 games. He is on the smaller side at 5'9, but can play center or right wing, and is certainly a player that the Leafs' brass is familiar with from his time with the London Knights.
23-Man Opening Night Roster
James van Riemsdyk
Leo Komarov (A)
Tyler Bozak (A)
Not a lot of surprise with this forward lineup. Babcock had said there were a lot of spots open, and the kids certainly delivered and proved they belong with the big club to start the season. My player to watch other than the three wunderkinds is Connor Brown. Coming off an injury suffered last season, Brown returned even stronger than before with 29 points in 34 AHL contests, and 6 points in 7 NHL games. It will be interesting to see where he slots in the lineup and how he'll try to work his way up.
Matt Hunwick (A)
Morgan Rielly (A)
The defence corps was fairly predictable. With what was presented, I had hoped players like Viktor Loov or Rinat Valiev would have been given a longer look or a better shot, but there were a few roadblocks in the way. I believe the Leafs picked eight defenceman in order to properly rotate players like Carrick and Corrado in and out of the lineup, while giving veterans like Polak and Hunwick some possible rest breaks during the season. My defenceman to watch is Connor Carrick. He broke out offensively during the 2016 AHL Playoffs and played well during the preseason. He has some refining to do in terms of his defensive game, but that will come. I expect him to be noticeably better player over the course of the season.
Zero surprises. Andersen may struggle due to shaky defence at times, but he'll be accustomed to facing a lot of high quality shots and playing a large bulk of games. If he performs well in those situations, one can only imagine how scary the Leafs might be when the youngsters hit their potentials and the defence becomes solid.
The Leafs will likely look to balance youth and experience for the most part. Lines will likely move around until they find what works the best and they will go from there. This is a season for learning, and most Leafs fans must understand that and be patient with the rookies.
van Riemsdyk - Bozak - Marner
Michalek - Kadri - Komarov
Hyman - Matthews - Nylander
Martin - Holland - Brown
Rielly - Zaitsev
Gardiner - Polak
Hunwick - Corrado
Babcock loves the L/R balance, and with these lines he gets it. This leaves Marincin and Corrado in the pressbox, but it should not be an issue as they will eventually be rotating in and out of the lineup until either Polak is traded again, or they play well enough to secure a spot.
The season will be a definite learning experience. With a lot of rookies in the Leafs lineup, there will be some very bad games. However, there are also going to be a lot of exciting games and plays we see throughout the year. This will be a very fun team to watch when all is going well, and we shouldn't be hard on them when things go south for a little bit. All in all, a better team than last year, but not a playoff team. This year's Leafs will likely finish with a top 10 draft pick which will lead to a very solid 1st round selection. Enjoy seeing the potential Leafs fans, there is a lot more to come and a lot of good years on the way.