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Winter T25U25: #7 Timothy Liljegren, #8 Filip Hallander, #9 Travis Dermott

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And the battle for Justin Holl’s job.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Columbus Blue Jackets - Game Four
TORONTO, ONTARIO - AUGUST 07: Justin Holl #3 of the Toronto Maple Leafs talks to teammate Travis Dermott #23 during the second period of Game Four of the Eastern Conference Qualification Round at Scotiabank Arena on August 07, 2020 in Toronto, Ontario.
Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

We are nearing the end of the Top 25 Under 25 prospect rankings and today we have three of the most interesting players in the Leafs organization.

Timothy Liljegren, a first round pick that has seemingly been in the Leafs organization forever, who got his first NHL games under his belt and is a bona-fide top defenseman in the AHL. Filip Hallander, the 20-year-old prospect the Leafs got in the Kasperi Kapanen trade (along with Rodion Amirov). And Travis Dermott, in his second last year of eligibility and probably his final year to show the Leafs he can be a top-four defenseman.

Winter Top 25: 10, 9 and 8

Player Travis Dermott Filip Hållander Timothy Liljegren
Player Travis Dermott Filip Hållander Timothy Liljegren
Summer 2020 Rank 8 N/A 7
Birth Date December 22, 1996 June 29, 2000 April 30, 1999
Nationality Canada Sweden Sweden
Position LD LW RD
Species 17 7 10
Brigstew 10 12 7
Katya 12 9 8
Hardev 10 8 7
Fulemin 7 9 8
Kevin 7 13 8
Jared 11 8 7
Adam 11 12 6
Rahef 7 9 8
Weighted Rank 10.2 9.7 7.7
Lowest Rank 17 13 10
Highest Rank 7 7 6
Spread in Rank 10 6 4
Total Votes 9 9 9

#7 - Timothy Liljegren - RD - Drafted 2017 - Round 1, Pick #17
2020-21 Team: Toronto Maple Leafs
2019-20 Stats (NHL): 40GP, 5G, 25A, 30Pts
2019-20 Stats (AHL): 11GP, 0G, 1A, 1Pts

Like his jersey number, Timothy Liljegren has remained in seventh for every Top 25 Under 25 he’s been eligible for since 2017, with the lone exception of 2019 where he ranked ninth. In 2019, Liljegren was jumped by Alex Kerfoot and Andreas Johnsson in their last years of eligibility. With them plus Kasperi Kapanen moving on, and only Rodion Amirov jumping ahead, Liljegren regains command of his favourite spot.

Liljegren and Carolina’s Jake Bean are two defensemen who stood head and shoulders above the rest last season in the AHL in terms of production and usage. I wrote about the two over the summer in Liljegren’s T25U25 article. I believe they’re both ready, but with the pandemic and limiting player movement, it’s going to be hard for either to win themselves a spot even out of camp. The Leafs aren’t waiving Dermott or Bogosian, Sandin is on the left side behind Lehtonen, and they’ll want Marincin to sit in the press box.

It feels like forever ago, but Leafs assistant GM Laurence Gilman was certain that he wasn’t going to have Liljegren to start the 2019-20 season, the year before his offensive breakout in the AHL. He had done a lot of work defensively to be a number one defenseman in all situations, he just wasn’t getting the offensive minutes to put up points. He did exactly what was expected and more by playing in the NHL. He’s ready for a top-six role on this team.

“Looking at Liljegren’s numbers, he has near-identical numbers to Carolina Hurricanes prospect Jake Bean, who was drafted a year earlier at 13th overall. Bean has two NHL games under his belt and was one-two with Liljegren in even-strength and power play primary points per game in the AHL.”

For now, Liljegren is probably going to be on the right side of the first pair next to Calle Rosen on the Marlies. I would love them as a third pair in the NHL, but I guess the Marlies will have to be spoiled with them as their top pair. If Liljegren can put up those offensive numbers again (and maybe even improve on them?) it would be great. He can definitely do it, plus I think the Marlies will be a better, and at least a more stable team this year. A step forward in his skating would be nice, too, just to quiet those questions. He’s certainly had the time to work on it.

What the Writers Think - Timothy Liljegren

Muzzin-Liljegren! Make it happen! And yes, Liljegren can penalty kill well.

Brigstew: I’m still a believer in Liljegren. He plays the right side, he’s been one of the best defensemen in the AHL, and he’s still just 21. I think he could play on the Leafs in the NHL this year and do well, or at least acceptable, if he had a good veteran linemate on a third pair. But the Leafs’ situation on defense isn’t really conducive to it. They likely aren’t going to want to throw him to the wolves like that, and there are some things he could still work on in the AHL. But he should be in the NHL soon, and there are some questions I have about him that are in a similar vein as Dermott. What will he be? Can he provide value outside of a third pairing at even strength? Can he run a 2nd PP unit? Can he do well on the PK, even if it’s on a second unit? He has the advantage of being a right shot, and I think in another year or two he SHOULD be ready to take Justin Holl’s job next to Muzzin on the second pair. If he’s not, we’ll see him start tumbling down the rankings. For now though, I still believe and have him ranked at 7th.

Jared, he’s still only 21, hold firm with that belief! It would be a real shame if the Leafs gave up on him.

Jared: For the first time since drafting him I’m starting to waver on Liljegren. It’s not his fault, he’s still about as good as he’s ever been as a prospect, but after a rather *cough* poor showing in his limited NHL showcase he’s quickly falling into that “is his time up?” range where prospects are often shuffled to the bottom, ignored and thrown away as shinier toys come in and vets are brought in to plug the roster holes he was expected to be in by now. A healthy, consistent season is basically a must at this point.

I understand where Katya is coming from, there’s a good handful of NHL players who were drafted shortly after Liljegren, and the hype about him before the season that was peddled after the draft might have been overstating his ability, but he’s still a good prospect. And at some point he needs to push through the bodies in front of him and take a spot. He has to give them no choice but to try him.

Katya: I think he is both the largest mistake made in the draft in recent years and a good prospect. But well, can I defer this one too until I see if Mikko Lehtonen is significantly better than even Sandin, far less Liljegren? I think he’s my second least certain ranking.

#8 - Filip Hallander- LW - Drafted 2018 - Round 2, Pick #58
2020-21 Team: Lulea HF, SHL
2020-21 Stats: 22GP, 3G, 8A, 11Pts

Hallander is the newbie in the Leafs system and has been working away in Sweden as the first line left wing for Lulea for the past year and a half (he can also play centre). Katya had a very good article on Hallander, filling in the blanks we have of his first two years of development as a draft pick since we didn’t draft him. Kyle Dubas said he wanted to draft him but his quote was a little suspect after realizing the Leafs passed on him twice in 2018.

“One thing Luleå cares a lot about is hockey. The team is usually good, and last season (for them, which makes it the 2019-2020 season) they finished first by a large margin and looked ready to run for the championship. Of course, that never happened, and the playoffs were cancelled. Hallander is coming off a season of success on the top line of the best team in the SHL, and now the chance exists for him to play in Luleå until the Leafs training camp opens and then who knows?”

Nevertheless, Hallander is on the SHL’s best team on their first line for the full season, as per his loan agreement. Initially, he was set to come to training camp (and stay should he win a spot in the lineup) but it was decided more recently that he would stay in Sweden the full year and not travel back and forth during the pandemic. We might see him on the Marlies depending on how late the AHL season starts and how long Lulea’s playoff run will go.

My expectation for Hallander is a top line role in the AHL in 2021-22 and a jump to the NHL at some point shortly after. Sort of like Kapanen, but without the waiting period in between where the Marlies had to teach him to PK. Hallander seems to be a lot farther along in his defensive game. I have to say I’m excited to see him on the Marlies, though I’m hoping it won’t be for too long.

I really liked Katya’s description of Hallander and Nick Robertson, it feels like they’re two sides of the same coin. Big(ish) vs. Small (ish). Fast vs. Crafty. Shooter vs. Net Front. That kind of stuff. Robertson has a reputation for being dynamic and explosive, traits that make him special, even in the NHL. Hallander would make a great partner for Robertson as a person who can spark a play at one end and finish it at the other. Okay, someone needs to stop me because I’m getting too excited.

What the Writers Think - Filip Hallander

Brigstew has been pushing this Hyman thing for a while. I don’t hate it, but I think Brigstew will agree with me that Hallander can be more of a play driver.

Brigstew: He feels like a Hyman-type player who has more skill than someone like Pontus Holmberg, and has produced more at the same levels but at a younger age than Holmberg, which makes sense for a second round pick to do compared to a late round pick. I can see Hallander playing a similar role as Hyman on a second or third line, and doing it well. He can skate, he can make plays even if they’re not flashy, he gets good reviews for his two-way play. I ranked him 12th, near the end of my “real prospects” tier because Hallander seems legit to me.

Yes, Jared, he only got traded for Lesper Jindgren.

Jared: The Hyman comparison keeps popping up and there is a reason for that. We should also remember that at 20 years of age Hyman was a nothing prospect, while Hallander is not. Hopefully he takes that huge step at 21 and isn’t traded for McEgg GrKegg before his abilities are realised.

#9 - Travis Dermott - LD - Drafted 2015 - Round 2, Pick #34
2020-21 Team: Toronto Maple Leafs
2019-20 Stats: 56GP, 4G, 7A, 11Pts

Happy birthday to Travis Dermott, who will be 24 years young tomorrow (Dec 22nd). By prospect standards, he’s ancient, though not as old as Egor Korshkov. Since the summer, Dermott moved down one spot as Rodion Amirov made his debut to the list while Hallander replaced Kapanen in sixth. Dermott’s has always been talked about in a funny way as he’s among the youngest of his age-group (1996), but also the oldest of his draft year (2015). He gets talked about in both ways depending on what the argument calls for. This season, however, there will be no arguments about his youth as he’s going to be 24 the whole time.

It goes without saying that this is a make or break year for Dermott on the Leafs. He’s got great shot numbers in relatively light minutes, as a result of the fact that he (rightfully) gets leveraged offensively. There is value in running deployment where offensive guys play lots of offensive and defensive guys do all the defense, but I think the Leafs learned that it taxes the few defensively capable players left in the lineup over their limit. That’s why Zach Bogosian is in Toronto as a likely in-the-lineup seventh defenseman, to help Jake Muzzin, TJ Brodie, and I guess Justin Holl?

Dermott will want his name to be among the defensively reliable defensemen on the Leafs, because he has Rasmus Sandin breathing down his neck from behind and an older Mikko Lehtonen probably in front of (or beside) him this season. Defensively, he needs to beat Holl, but probably also make sure Liljegren stays behind him.

Personally, I think the Leafs could use a more calm and collected presence on the ice that comes from the younger Liljegren rather than the jumpy actions of Dermott. His style may be more entertaining and effective in transition, but it falls apart in the defensive zone when reads are incorrect and someone is left open in front of the net. He just needs to slow down a little.

Dermott has had a good Leafs career up to this point, I want to respect that. By 24, he’s established himself as an NHLer no matter what and is hopefully going to be playing his best hockey for the next few years. I just want to see him slow down a bit and not make those “Leafy” mistakes. I hope that comes with age and maybe a philosophy change from the Leafs to be slower in terms of their skating speed but more efficient in moving the puck. Less Kapanen, Johnsson, Moore, more Simmonds, Thornton, Vesey. I certainly like the idea of the Leafs becoming a more responsible team.

What the Writers Think - Travis Dermott

Brigstew has lots of questions for Dermott. My thoughts on his thoughts are that it’s likely more that he has to fit in with Muzzin and support him more than be a better Holl, because while Holl did survive on the second pair, he wasn’t making Muzzin’s job any easier. Dermott can’t do the same thing for me to feel the switch is worth it. I will say I think Liljegren complimented Muzzin better in his limited time. It feels like a better fit.

Brigstew: What is Dermott, by now? I think he could do okay on a second pair, but he hasn’t really had a chance to prove it. He’s a good skater, good at defending in transition, but has yet to show a lot outside of that in any significant role. He won’t get PP time, he’s barely gotten PK time, so what’s his value? How useful is a defender who plays okay and only at even strength? I like Dermott. I think he could replace Holl even on the right side and get similar results on a pair with Muzzin. That’s not nothing, which is why I still ranked him 10th. But I think we could see a lot of younger prospects behind him start to pass him next year if they have good seasons of growth and Dermott doesn’t show us anything more than he has already.

Katya brings light to Dermott’s isolated impacts being not that useful offensively — yet. He has the tools, but he’s likely more a product of his deployment rather than his own impacts.

Katya: The fannish souring on Travis Dermott is a little weird. Trade him because he’s not a righty was so common a take, I got tired of the obvious answer: He’ll make less than Rasmus Sandin, who isn’t actually all that good — yet. And Dermott wasn’t a bad player, he was a player many people saw make mistakes, and that plus this one weird thing is why he’s underrated (possibly even by me). The weird thing is he’s actually really crappy offensively, if you buy in on the models that isolate that sort of thing, and I do to a point. Oh, and let me be clear — I don’t care about his points. I know it’s nice to imagine that defenceman points matter and measure value, but I think they tell more lies than truths, and I’m happy ignoring them. His puck moving and general mobility is just so good, though, that at some point, that offence thing needs to be solved. There’s too much good there to give up on.

Jared narrows down on Dermott being a “Leafy” player.

Jared: One of those guys where the eye test is really out of sync with the underlying numbers. He seems to do a lot of things well that rarely ever seem to end up well, does that make sense? I don’t know. Being pushed down the depth chart by two legit very good NHLers on your strong side certainly isn’t helping. I’d love to see more but I’m not sure where he is gonna do that this season unless he comes out real strong on his off hand.

I don’t know what Species is saying here. More food talk?

Species: I can’t think of a current Leafs defenceman more overrated among fans and stats people alike. Justin Holl is only overrated by one of those two groups. I sincerely hope Dermott enjoys tossed salads and scrambled eggs.

Poll

Where does Timothy Liljegren stand in a year?

This poll is closed

  • 58%
    NHL top-six
    (425 votes)
  • 36%
    Still in the AHL
    (265 votes)
  • 5%
    Left behind
    (41 votes)
731 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Is Timothy Liljegren good enough to be in the NHL today?

This poll is closed

  • 65%
    Yes
    (423 votes)
  • 34%
    No
    (227 votes)
650 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Where does Filip Hallander stand in a year?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    NHL
    (111 votes)
  • 71%
    AHL
    (461 votes)
  • 10%
    SHL
    (70 votes)
642 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Where does Travis Dermott stand in a year?

This poll is closed

  • 19%
    Second pair
    (129 votes)
  • 37%
    Third pair
    (250 votes)
  • 42%
    Somewhere else?
    (283 votes)
662 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Bonus Question: Who replaces Justin Holl?

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    Travis Dermott
    (89 votes)
  • 44%
    Timothy Liljegren
    (288 votes)
  • 23%
    Justin Holl
    (154 votes)
  • 18%
    Someone else
    (120 votes)
651 votes total Vote Now