Toronto Maple Leafs Pre Season So Far
As a Leaf fan and a hockey fan, I can’t deny it. I was excited for the NHL pre season to begin. After seeing the Leafs stink it up for the majority of last season, and only turn it on when it no longer mattered (as they have the last couple seasons in a row) I wanted to see what they could do from the outset this year.
There has been a lot of optimism surrounding the Leafs. Giguere and Gustavsson look to be a solid tandem which could lead the Leafs to respectability. We haven’t had solid goaltending in ages. The defence appears to be set, and as deep as its ever been. We have NHL d-men to spare. We need to find minutes for new acquisitions Brett Lebda, Matt Lashoff, and our youngsters like Carl Gunnarsson and Luke Schenn. Our popgun offense has been beefed up a bit with the off season additions of Kris Versteeg, Colby Armstrong, Clarke MacArthur and the continued development of youngsters Tyler Bozak, Nikolai Kulemin and Nazem Kadri.
After seeing the Leafs play several pre season games, a couple things are clear. We now have depth in net. Jussi Rynnas, Ben Scrivens, and James Reimer are all extremely talented and will soon challenge for NHL jobs. Giguere looked good in his one appearance, until surrendering 2 goals to the Flyers and eventually losing. Gustavsson has looked spectacular and mediocre. He makes outstanding highlight reel saves, then lets a puck off the boards bank off his foot into the net for a softie. He needs some consistency if he is going to be our future starter.
The Defence is extremely deep and looks pretty good. Young prospects like Jesse Blacker, Danny Richmond, Korbinian Holzer and Juraj Mikus appear to be a solid group that will play in the AHL. Their time in the NHL will come soon. Mike Komisarek looks big and nasty and looks fully recovered. Luke Schenn is playing with confidence and appears to be set to have a breakout season. However, Dion Phaneuf looked pedestrian in his only appearance, letting Nick Foligno walk around him to score a beauty. I can’t imagine he’ll let that happen too often in the regular season, but it wasn’t a good start for our new captain.
The offence has also shown what it could do. Phil Kessel looks just as good as he did last season, scoring several goals in his 2 appearances thus far. Bozaks vision on the ice appears to be getting better as he continually springs players for breakaways and great scoring opportunitiers. Kulemin and Grabovski look set to have solid seasons as well. Our additions, Kris Versteeg, Clarke MacArthur and Colby Armstrong all have been as advertised. Versteeg is quick and dangerous on every shift. He is also going to be a solid penalty killer. MacArthur is a weapon and is very crafty with the puck. He should be a great 2nd line winger. Colby Armstrong looks good on the penalty kill, and will become a fan favorite with his big hits and timely scoring.
The discouraging sign is the development of Nazem Kadri. He was supposed to have another amazing pre season (as he did last season) and steal the 2nd line center position away from Grabovski. Instead, Grabovski has looked dangerous, and Kadri has looked slow and indecisive with the puck. He is getting outmuscled, and outpositioned often. He isn’t capitalizing on the defences which are weaker than the ones he would be facing in the regular season. He has been given tons of powerplay time and a spot on the top line alongside Armstrong, Versteeg, Caputi etc. He hasn’t taken advantage of the opportunity and will likely start the season in the AHL unless he steals the show in the next couple of games.
Luca Caputi has put on some muscle and has looked dangerous. He should put some pressure on guys like Hanson and Mitchell and take some of Fredrik Sjostrom’s playing time while he’s on the IR. Marcel Mueller, the German who was so good in the Olympics hasn’t done much to impress thus far, although he is a big body with NHL speed. He could develop nicely. The youngsters we drafted this year like Greg McKegg and Brad Ross have looked ok, but will not likely challenge for NHL spots any time soon.
Needless to say, the projections have panned out. The goaltending and defence has been solid and looks deep for years to come. The offence has some promise, but is still thin compared to most other NHL clubs. If the D and goaltending can stand up to the rigours of the 82 game NHL season, the Leafs could challenge for a playoff spot, otherwise the mediocre offence will not carry the Leafs very far in high scoring games and the Leafs will suffer through another sub-par season and have early tee times.