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Monday FTB: Will next year be the year for the youths?

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Sandin, Liljegren and Brooks should get long looks in the NHL next year

Anaheim Ducks v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images

Over the past few off-seasons, the Toronto Maple Leafs under Kyle Dubas have filled out the roster around the edges with older, cheaper vets. Jason Spezza, Joe Thornton, Wayne Simmonds, and Zach Bogosian most notably. Each one was signed for one-year deals, and none for more than $1.5 million (Simmonds). Two of them were signed (Spezza, Thornton) for the league minimum of $700,000. You can also count Jimmy Vesey, who isn’t exactly an aging vet, but was cheap depth signed for $900k. They’ve also dipped into the European free agency pool a few times. Ilya Mikheyev, Alexander Barabanov, and Mikko Lehtonen all signed for under $1 million in their first years.

Both methods have been designed to maintain flexibility and add quality depth that has a chance to provide below above and beyond such small cap hits. Part of the reason why they needed to do this is to fill out their roster without much cap space, and because they didn’t have prospects ready to jump into the NHL full time to provide that cheap, surplus value.

Well, perhaps next year that can change with Rasmus Sandin, Timothy Liljegren and Adam Brooks. Sandin looks like he could steal a regular roster spot for this year’s playoffs with how he’s been playing, and a lock for the lineup until Bogosian returns from his injury. Liljegren has only played in one game, but will get another tomorrow with Holl banged up. Adam Brooks has gotten into eight games this year, and looks to be getting more to end the regular season.

I won’t bother listing their advanced stats since the sample is extremely small for all of them. But all three, for what they’ve played so far, have promising numbers in terms of both shot attempts and expected goal share. All three are also making under $1 million next year, though Liljegren has performance bonuses that could take him over it.

And all three, especially Brooks and Liljegren, are running out of runway in terms of being considered prospects. It would be nice for them to provide some value in the NHL next year, when they’ll still need cheap depth to give quality minutes. Brooks has shown he can be effective in the NHL on a fourth line, and could fill that role even if Spezza comes back again. Sandin looks primed to take a spot after this year’s expansion draft, when we expect the Leafs to likely lose either Dermott or Holl. Liljegren will be given a fighting chance to take a spot as well.

I won’t even begin to guess if any of them do spend most of next season in the NHL, even if I’d say Sandin likely will be. The Leafs could trade any of them, they could sign more older vets to league minimum who make even less than the three of them do, they could get hurt, etc.

But man it would sure be nice to have our prospects jumping into the NHL again, and especially these three. I know I’m cheering for them to earn a spot and run with it all year.

ONTO THE LINKS

Speaking of cheap depth, an oft-forgotten Leafs player is returning from his stint in Europe this year.

While another Leafs prospect is re-upping with his European team:

Adam Brooks is having NHL stretch to remember with Leafs | by Nick Barden at TLN
I’m not the only one who’s liking what we’ve seen from Prairie Jesus lately. We are accepting more members on the Adam Brooks bandwagon!

Nation Network World Under-18’s Round Robin Recap | by Tony Ferrari at TLN
A useful summary of what’s going on with some top prospects who will be available at the draft this summer, including a few that I’ve mentioned here in my watch lists.

Pavel Gogolev impressive in debut, Toronto Marlies’ return to action ends with a home loss to Belleville | by Mark Rackham at MLHS
The Marlies went 0-2 this weekend in their return to play after being shut down due to positive COVID-19 tests. There’s some interesting players on the roster, but they’re also missing Sandin, Liljegren and Brooks and haven’t had a big surge in prospects joining the AHL ranks. That will start to change the next couple of years from their last two drafts. Der-Argunchintsev, Kral, Hallander, Holmberg and some others may all start filling their ranks.

How Jason Spezza’s grand gesture has strengthened the bond between Maple Leafs and Marlies | by Joshua Kloke at The Athletic

Maple Leafs’ Matthews continues ‘unbelievable’ season with wingman Marner | by Luke Fox at Sportsnet
Matthews and Marner > McDavid and Draisaitl. Don’t @ me Oilers fans.

Tavares embraces change to push Leafs forward | by Kristen Shilton at TSN
Changes include using a different curve on his stick for the first time since minor hockey, apparently.

Have a great Monday everyone!