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How many rookies will the Maple Leafs have next year?

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Bob McKenzie plays armchair GM on the Leafs roster, and he went big on youth. We can join in and play too.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Bob McKenzie proposed a Leafs roster for next year in the intermission of last night's game. It's an interesting lineup and the video is well worth a listen for his explanations. There's some assumptions buried in it, so I want to unpack those first.

First, as everyone is likely aware, the odds of getting the number one pick by coming last aren't so hot this year:

Watch the video of McKenzie and the rest of the panel discussing the options.

Two things stand out here. McKenzie is not buying into the Patrik Laine over Auston Matthews buzz that some scouts tried to start up post-WJC, and the other is that there's a lot better chance of the Leafs drafting a very, very good winger than that very, very good centre. I'm not sure it matters who that winger is for this discussion, but let's assume it's Laine or Tkachuk.

McKenzie goes on to project the Leafs lineup and it largely looks like this:

Goalies

Jonathan Bernier

Garret Sparks

Pair One

Matt Hunwick

Morgan Rielly

Pair Two

Jake Gardiner

*Nikita Zaitsev

Pair Three

??

??

Depth

Martin Marincin

Frank Corrado

Line One

*Nikita Soshnikov

Nazem Kadri

Leo Komarov

Line Two Option One

James van Riemsdyk

*Auston Matthews

William Nylander

Line Two Option Two

James van Riemsdyk

William Nylander

*Matthew Tkachuk or Patrik Laine

Line Three

*Brendan Leipsic or Josh Leivo

Tyler Bozak

*Zach Hyman

Line Four

Milan Michalek

Brooks Laich

Peter Holland or *Connor Brown

13th Forward

Mitch Marner

First up, McKenzie thinks that the Leafs will go looking for some kind of UFA goalie to upgrade there. I have to agree with that, but they may not choose to do that right away. It depends on what the goal for next year is: break in the rookies or make the playoffs. If the right deal comes along, and I'd like to see that be for a reliable starter, then I would think they'd make it. Sparks is too much of an unknown right know to even make a guess at, so no way will the Leafs move Bernier unless a better option comes back.

Next is the defence. Here you have the painful to look at prospect of Matt Hunwick on the top pair for a whole year. McKenzie is convinced that will happen. I sort of am too, and while I don't think that's the best use of Hunwick long term, I doubt the Leafs do either. It is a way to have one experienced veteran out there with a very young defence corps behind him.

The second pair is interesting in that McKenzie is predicting Zaitsev steps right into the top four. I'm coming around to that view myself. I've watched him play a handful of games, and while trying to account for the very different system he's playing under in Moscow, I think he has a legitimate shot at walking into the NHL. He is much better on the point than Frank Corrado—it's no contest—and he's confident moving the puck. He's also dynamite on the power play.

The Leafs have a very large clutch of depth defencemen, and it would be ideal if Hunwick is the only guy playing over his head. McKenzie thinks a UFA veteran signing is not out of the question, and I know the desire is so very strong to see all the rookies, all at once, but that's a tough sell on the coach who has to spend a lot of time on all of them. I'm fairly cool on all these young depth D, including Connor Carrick, and I don't see more than limited use of them being good for this team, so I'm fully expecting McKenzie to be right about this one.

The forward lines are very interesting. There's names missing here, and a lot of rookies taking their place—I've starred all the guys who are essentially new on the job. The most likely draft choice is a winger, so option two on the second line is more probable than the first fantasy. I like it better. You can apprentice at wing all you like, and for some guys they need it, but the Leafs aren't going for the cup next year, put Nylander in and see how he does.

And that brings me to Tyler Bozak. The very good reason to not trade Bozak is just that issue on the second line. If you are going with either option and your rookie centre needs a mental break, you can play Bozak up a line. This is a nice luxury to have and the guy has been a very good second/third C under Babcock.

Next is the fourth line and the depth, where the space for veterans is growing thin. Out of Michalek, Laich and Lupul, someone has to go, and there will be no re-signing of Michael Grabner, P.A. Parenteau or Brad Boyes.

I don't think there's room here for Ben Smith, Colin Greening or any new faces, and they might end up as next year's Mark Arcobello—playing out the year in the Marlies and coming up as fill-ins when needed.

The idea that you can trade Joffrey Lupul is a nice fantasy when you look at his cap hit, but maybe the reality is you trade the one guy who will get you something good coming back, and that would be Brooks Laich. It's a very tough call, and maybe Michalek will impress going down the stretch and change the conversation, but Laich is so tradeable simply because he is so easy to want to keep for everything he brings to the team.

The thirteenth forward is Mitch Marner, and he will spend a lot of time in the Frankie Corrado memorial press box chair. He will get some games too, but he's not a key part of the team yet.

Missing from this list is Kasperi Kapanen, who I expect to play top line on the Marlies all of next year where he will need to prove some things about his game.

My major qualm about this lineup is the number of rookies. Carolina had five this year, and they took a long time to get it together. You will notice they are not in the playoffs right now. I'm not sure I buy Josh Leivo in the NHL yet. I'm more inclined to buy Brendan Leipsic in that spot, and Connor Brown is not quite ready to kick Peter Holland out, so yeah, I do see the Leafs re-signing him.

If the Leafs do go this route, it's going to be quite a year. All that youth, all that enthusiasm, all those rookie mistakes. Buckle up.