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Eye-testing the Maple Leafs after two preseason games

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It’s too soon to judge. The games are “meaningless”. The opponent was barely an AHL team. I’m doing it anyway.

NHL: Preseason-Ottawa Senators at Toronto Maple Leafs Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Full disclosure: I did not watch every minute of the first two pre-season games with rapt attention. I’m not letting that stop me from telling you how everyone looked, however.

The roster has the players in alphabetical order, so that’s what I’m going with.

Game One

Connor Brown: He was his usual self — worked hard, didn’t do anything exciting or terrible, and played well with Nazem Kadri.

Emerson Clark: I had forgotten he was one of the AHL signings, and he looked easily as good as the other AHLers on NHL deals like Trevor Moore and Dmytro Timashov. The fight was typical stuff, but his play sold me that he wants to be the rarest of things: an AHL-contracted player actually on the Marlies.

Adam Cracknell: He performed up to my expectations. He works, he skates okay, he’s plausible as a depth player and he plays a smart physical game. I can see why he keeps getting claimed on waivers. He’s exactly what teams think they need, but he’s not really going to make an impact in the NHL. In the AHL, he will annoy the hell out of teams who were used to a very different sort of Marlies player on the top lines.

SDA: Did not play.

Carl Grundstrom: He underwhelmed most people, but he’s not a driver of offensive play, he’s an opportunist. He played to his usual style, but so far, he seems to lack some verve in games that don’t count.

Zach Hyman: Exactly as expected, right down to getting stoned on a breakaway. He looked less comfortable with John Tavares than Mitch Marner did, but time will cure that.

Nazem Kadri: Exactly as expected. His offensive game was fine with Brown and Josh Leivo, and he didn’t quite have regular-season level oomph in his defensive efforts.

Josh Leivo: Very impressive effort, slightly less impressive results. I’ve been pleased with everything Leivo has done in training camp, but like Brown or Grundstrom, he’s never going to be the catalyst to a line’s success (that’s just “straw that stirs the drink” in fancy chemistry talk). I’d play him on a fourth line right now, except there’s other, younger options with growth in their futures.

Mitch Marner: Remember when he found Patrick Marleau, and it looked like he could finally soar? Yeah, well, that was just a taste. He’s found John Tavares now, and look out NHL, they are coming for you.

Trevor Moore: He can’t be happy with his performance. He did not look like a top line AHLer even. Let’s call it a bad night, and move on.

Chris Mueller: He looked like a good AHL centre, but remember him for later.

John Tavares: Did you know he didn’t even give the Habs an interview?

Dmytro Timashov: He was fine, but didn’t stand out particularly.

Andreas Borgman: Bam bam, bam bam, and then an 200 ft goal. Which is what he is, not a hitter, not a scorer, but a little of both. He made a strong case for not starting on the Marlies, but he will start on the Marlies.

Travis Dermott: He was very good. He’s listed as day-to-day at the moment with a shoulder injury, but he played like he belongs in the NHL.

Ron Hainsey: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Hainsey made some great defensive plays that saved the Leafs from looking rustier than they were, and he was also really crappy some of the time. Guys born in the eighties don’t generally bring their A game to training camp, however.

Justin Holl: He looks so good in the offensive zone against AHL-level opponents, and then he plays the rest of the game, and it’s not as sweet. I can’t see how he has a hope of beating the competition for a spot.

Andrew Nielsen: Not very noticeable in the game, which considering his Rookie Tournament exploits was likely wise.

Igor Ozhiganov: I liked him. This was cruel playing him on a non-standard rink for his first ever North American game, but he coped, made some good moves. He skates well, passes well, seems to know where to be, and he’s going to have very, very few points wherever he plays. So far, so good.

Morgan Rielly: He had to hustle some to cover for Hainsey, and he looked like he always does in front of his own net, but his offensive smarts haven’t gone anywhere over the summer.

Jordan Subban: Was he actually in this game? I don’t think so.

Curtis McElhinney: Scrambled his way to success. The only goal against was typical Leafs in the defensive zone without a map.

Garret Sparks: Same as above, minus the goal against. I can’t pick between them based on this game.

Game Two

Jeremy Bracco: He made some great passes. He made some passes into traffic in the slot just for the hell of it. He scored a goal and took two penalties. I smell early cut to Marlies camp where the focus on his decision making can begin.

Adam Brooks: Really impressive in a game against mostly the B-Sens. But if he plays like that for a full season in the AHL instead of a few weeks, I might get on board the Brooks train.

Rich Clune: As expected, he played a tough forechecker to let his younger, better linemates shine. He knows the gig.

Pierre Engvall: Nothing makes this man look like a better skater than playing with Frederik Gauthier. Engvall is positionally sound, has a head for the game, and does not look like a guy who is going to score on NHL goalies.

Tyler Ennis: I mean. What do you want me to say? I’m only human, and I told you s — uh, I told myself to be objective about him. He was the most successfully physically-engaged player for the first half (which reflects very badly on some others); he gets below the goal line all the time; he digs out the puck, responds to his centre’s play intelligently; he can score, and he shoots from in tight. He’s Patrick Marleau, just 10 years younger and not quite as good a shooter.

Frederik Gauthier: I watched him physically dominate in the corners, totally work over a guy until he likely wanted to be traded (well, Senator, he already did), and then he failed to get possession of the puck and Andersen had to make a panic save. He’s slow, still, but less unassertive in the offensive zone. He got hurt in the third period and didn’t finish the game, but I did not notice this happen.

Colin Greening: Did not play.

Andreas Johnsson: For him, that was a garbage performance. Just based on these two games, he’s in trouble for holding the fourth-line job, forget about higher up. That decision won’t be based on these two games, however.

Josh Jooris: He was really bad. I was surprised, to be honest. I can’t see him having anything to say about an NHL job unless he really improves. He was okay on a bad PK unit, but overall, Chris Mueller looked better.

Kasperi Kapanen: Better than Johnsson, which is damning with the faintest of praise. He never got skating, which, even the B-Sens clog the neutral zone, but he has to be able to do more than just skate fast.

Par Lindholm: Solid and dull. Right now he’d need to break both legs to not be the fourth-line centre, though.

Patrick Marleau: Played at less than full power, which considering he was born in the seventies is not a shock. He has the right game to play with Matthews, however, and he can back off a little on his own shot-rate, and let Matthews do the high-quality shooting.

Auston Matthews: He needs more time with Marleau, and if he gets William Nylander back soon, he’ll be right back at his usual level. He’s ready for real hockey now, that’s clear.

Trevor Moore: was not in the game

Connor Carrick: He did nothing very well, and yet wasn’t horrible, just ineffective against what is likely the worst team the Leafs will play all year.

Jake Gardiner: He was making Jake face at his baby, who made the same face right back.

Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin: The junior defence corps played together, carefully used by Mike Babcock, and they both looked better than they should have in a quasi-NHL game. I was particularly impressed with Sandin. He does not look diffident or rookie-like at all.

Vincent LoVerde: Did not play.

Martin Marincin and Nikita Zaitsev: What a pair, eh? They seamlessly switched sides when they needed to, looked a little confused as to what the hell the other guy was doing sometimes, but they played a lot of defensive time so the juniors could shine. Marincin did a few Marincin things like passing the puck into traffic at random, and they weren’t exactly zone exit geniuses, but no one on this version of the roster was very good at that.

Calle Rosen: He showed off all his strengths — skating, positioning, passing. He looked smooth and smart, and he put on the best show he could have to make a case for a depth job. I can’t help but think of Philip Holm, though (he was the other guy the Leafs were supposed to sign, but the Canucks did instead). He plays top pair now in the KHL, and Rosen could too. That’s an attractive proposition compared to the bubble or another AHL season.

Frederik Andersen: He looked like he’s had enough pretend hockey and is ready to roll.

Calvin Pickard: He had to scramble hard, as Babcock played his top players less as the game wore on, and he tried out Johnsson and Kapanen on better lines a little bit. But Pickard was solid, looked like a backup, and let in one goal on a terrible, terrible, no good PK gone horribly wrong. I can’t tell him from Sparks or McE based on these games so far.


I think we should expect a few less AHLers against Buffalo because the Sabres are a tougher opponent than the Senators. Anyone is, really. Time to get 25 per cent more serious with roster construction.