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Predicting the unpredictable: 2021 Maple Leafs Lineup

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

With Travis Dermott being signed yesterday to a contract of 1-year, worth *checks notes* 874 000 Dollars, the Leafs have seemingly filled up their depth chart on defense, and the roster, assuming they are going to carry anywhere between 20 and 23 skaters, looks complete.

But how exactly is the day one roster going to look like? No one knows of course, the league isn't even sure when or where they are going to start the season, or when training camps will start, but it is worth (and mainly fun) trying to predict the opening night roster nonetheless.

Forward Lines

The first two lines are, as far as I can tell, pretty much set in stone.

1st and 2nd Line

Zach Hyman

Auston Matthews

Mitchell Marner

William Nylander

John Tavares

Ilya Mikheyev

The first line was great last year, they had wanted to play together for ages, even under Babcock, and Keefe finally put them together, so I don't see a reason to split them up, at least not on opening night.

Hyman has earned his spot on this line, even finding a goalscoring touch last season, and if Matthews and Marner can take the next step and both become 100+ point players, the NHL is in big trouble.

The second line was also good last year, even tough every member of it was injured at some point during the season.

Ilya Mikheyev is exactly the player John Tavares needs and makes better, and Nylander fits in well with any top line center, can provide some backup for faceoffs, and is overall a legit top 6 winger, probably a top line winger were it not for the incredible talent the Leafs already have on their first line.

Now the bottom six gets considerably harder to predict, mainly because there are way to many players to choose from.

The depth chart on capfriendly.com right now has Pierre Engvall buried in the minors to stay slalary-cap compliant, and still has 13 forwards on it.
Now technically you only need 12 forwards, but you also need to be Salary-Cap compliant with as many forwards on the roster as possible.

3rd Line Version 1

Jimmy Vesey

Alexander Kerfoot

Wayne Simmonds

Kerfoot could start at 3C in my opinion. Without injuries, that was his spot last year, and the 3rd line never really got going, because they never really got the ice-time a line as skilled as they were should have gotten, and Kerfoot suffered because of it. And when injuries hit, he was plugged in everywhere, and then the season was suspended. I think he deserves another shot at this.

He also gets to play with his college linemate Jimmy Vesey, who he had some excellent chemistry with back then, so maybe that works out, it's certainly worth trying.

And Wayne Simmonds is the perfect 3rd liner for this team, so he starts there.

3r Line Version 2

Alexander Kerfoot

Joe Thornton

Wayne Simmonds

The much older Version of a 3rd line, but Joe Thornton is still capable of playing good 3rd line minutes in my opinion, and the same goes for Wayne Simmonds, who might even score some goals with Thornton as his centre, the best playmaker he has played with since he was in Philly (neither Buffalo nor New Jersey had anyone close to him).

And Kerfoot gets to play with a player who can really show him how its done. Now this line, if it happens, is probably not going to play a full 82 game season together, as Joe Thornton might get rested at different points of the season, but it is at the very least a good fallback option.

4th line

Jimmy Vesey

Jason Spezza

Alexander Barabanov

There are an abundance of people who could play 4th line minutes on the Leafs on opening night next season, but I for one am certain, no matter how training-camp goes, that Jason Spezza will be on that 4th Line. The Leafs ought to make it up to him after he was scratched on opening night last season.

Alexander Barabanov also seems to have a spot secured, after all he chose the Leafs out of Russia, and that was, I am totally speculating here, probably on some form of agreement that he was going to play.

Now the last spot could go to several different people.

To Name just a few: Joey Anderson, Pierre Engvall, Nic Petan (oh yea, he's still on the team), Travis Boyd, Yegor Korshkov, Adam Brooks and Nicholas Robertson.

The choice here will likely come down to factors such as Salary-Cap Compliancy, how the Leafs want to handle ELC slides, etc. I'm just pencilling Vesey in for now, if he's not on the 3rd Line, he might as well be on the 4th Line.

Defensive Pairings

Now this is about as unknown as the bottom six at this moment, but here goes.

Morgan Rielly

T.J. Brodie

Jake Muzzin

Justin Holl

Mikko Lehtonen

Travis Dermott

I expect this to change a lot during the season.
I believe Mikko Lehtonen will surprise a lot of people and be a good top 4 offensive Defenseman, and I could see him playing on a pairing with Rielly, getting 2nd pair minutes, and then a Muzzin - Brodie pairing getting the hard minutes.

But for opening night, I think he's going to start on the 3rd pair (unless he has an insane Camp), and he is going to be sheltered with Travis Dermott on th 3rd pair, to get used to north-american ice. Dermott has to get used to playing the right side, and we'll see how well he does in a sheltered role, he could move up past Justin Holl in the depth chart if he plays well.

Jake Muzzin is the designated rock on the 2nd pair, and he fits that role perfectly, and the newest addition T.J. Brodie is going to be the best partner Morgan Rielly has ever had, at least to start.

But as I said, this is completely unpredicteable in my opinion, as players like Rasmus Sandin and Zach Bogosian will certainly get playing time somewhere along the line, and the makeup of the defense in my opinion also depens a lot more on training camp than that of the forward core.

So that's it for this one! I hope you enjoyed reading, let me know if you agree or disagree with any choices I made, especially on defense! You can find me on Twitter @theForester26, if your interested in my takes more regularly. Have a great rest of your day, and a great weekend!

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