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Leafs Report Cards: Progress Report after first two preseason games against Senators

Who played well, who didn’t, and who does it matter for?

The Toronto Maple Leafs open their training camp for the 2022-23 season
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 23 - Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Ilya Samsonov (35) stops Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Michael Bunting (58) as the The Toronto Maple Leafs open their training camp for the 2022-23 season at Ford Performance Centre in Toronto. September 23, 2022.
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Because it’s preseason, here’s a bullet-point recap of the performances on Day 1 of the preseason. These notes covered the split squad doubleheader between the Leafs and Senators where almost all the Leafs in camp played. I focused on three players in each game to write about, plus notable players and underwhelming players in both games after that. Feel free to page search through the names you’re interested in.

Leafs won the first game 4-1 (Holl, Malgin, Steeves, Steeves (ENG)).

Leafs lost the second game 2-4 (Järnkrok, Järnkrok).

See our game preview for the line combinations.

Adam Gaudette (G1)

  • Apart from a high-energy and busy first shift, Gaudette didn’t really seem to be ahead of the play in the first period.
  • Gaudette played the bumper spot on the first power play in this game, but didn’t show the quickness needed to make plays there. He got smothered on his first touch with the puck, but did hound Aaron Luchuk all the way back down the ice. That seems fine for a fourth line role, but I think the Leafs coaching staff is looking for more offensively.
  • Between periods, Gaudette said in an interview that he’s been waiting for an opportunity like this for a few years, so he clearly knows what kind of stakes there are.
  • To be fair to Gaudette, I can see exactly why the Leafs think there’s something in him. He can play at a high pace sometimes and be part of good passing plays. He has confidence with the puck and confidence to shoot (he has a good one). It’s almost like watching Alex Galchenyuk a couple years ago, not all of his game is put together so he seems a little disjointed at times. His hands are great, but he goes too far and loses the puck. His forechecking is great, but he can get caught on the wrong side. His backchecking is strong, but those moments have come from offensive giveaways. To me, Gaudette is complicated and imperfect, he might fit for 34 of the season until the Leafs buy someone at the deadline. We’ll see.

Zach Aston-Reese (G1)

  • Battles hard, but what I think I like the most is his clever stick use. He was able to get under the puck carrier and create turnovers.
  • He and Kämpf were joined by Fraser Minten for a shift, which was fun. They’re three big guys who are pretty good in the corners and in cycles.

Denis Malgin (G1)

  • William Nylander was giving Malgin every chance possible to score and make himself look good. Malgin was getting chance after chance after chance as Nylander looked absolutely dominant in the offensive zone.
  • I don’t think Malgin especially helped his case in camp because he wasn’t really getting much done apart from having Nylander passes hit his stick. Sometimes he was in good positions to recieve pucks, but other times he left Nylander completely without options as he couldn’t get away from his check.
  • On Twitter, Malgin was getting meme’d hard, so there’s that.
  • He finished off a goal from Nylander in the second period (see below) beating Zaitsev to the net.

Ilya Samsonov (G2)

  • The Leafs in the first period didn’t give Samsonov very much to do (only two shots on goal, including none on their power play), which is what the Leafs are hoping will help their goaltending this year. Samsonov did make a good lateral tracking save on the lone chance in the period. Looked solid.
  • It was a busier second period for Samsonov, who had to stop a couple breakaways. He did well. I’m not sure it’s wise to get so specific on a goalie in the first exhibition game. So far he’s stopped pucks, which is the job.
  • And after his two periods, zero goals against. Solid. Happy.

Nick Robertson (G2)

  • For some reason, I don’t think a line with him, Kerfoot, and Aubé-Kubel worked to see very much in Robertson’s game. Kerfoot was transitioning the puck, Aubé-Kubel was the first guy to the end boards, and it left Robertson without much to do other than stand around the middle of the ice because there weren’t any chances being created for him in the F3 spot.
  • It concerned me a bit that Robertson didn’t step into the role and do something with it, I think he took a step back instead. It’s still early, but I was hoping for a more complete game at this point. On the bright side, the style of play he likes fits very well with Tavares and Nylander; he just needs to be trusted in other ways so he’s not a liability when he’s not given that lineup spot.

Jordie Benn/Victor Mete (G2)

  • I didn’t notice this pair in the first period, which can only be a good thing. They both move the puck relatively well, but they struggled a bit as a pair against attacking rushes. Benn especially was just there without doing anything and then got passed.
  • Oh boy. Mete plays in the defensive zone the way you would expect from a headless Travis Dermott with no skating stride. Look at 98! He’s just floating in the top half of the zone! Abruzzese did well until he fell and lost his check. Kokkonen had covered his guy on the other side. Where was the other defenseman?!
  • This pairing was on the ice for the 2-3 goal and neither bothered to grab any rebounds.
  • I’d be happy if neither played for the Leafs, especially Mete. He got eaten alive.

Other Notable Performances

  • William Nylander was a scoring chance machine right from the get-go. There was no warming up for him, with two high danger chances and setting up another within the first 10 minutes of the game.
  • Tavares was warming up his shot in this game. Even when his attempts went high, you could hear how hard the puck collided with the boards. Commenting on his overall game, stories about Tavares’ demise are greatly exaggerated.
  • Fraser Minten had a good Leafs debut. I saw him on many different lines and he was pretty consistent with his play. He’s good in the cycle and down low, he’s a smart player positionally and moves where he needs to when he needs to. He had a breakaway opportunity, but his pass to Steeves was blocked. I would’ve liked to see him go hard to the net instead, but it’s not a big deal. The 18-year-old definitely needs to improve his acceleration, but we already knew that from Hayley Wickenheiser at development camp.
  • Joey Anderson showed on a couple occasions that he knows how to maximize on loose pucks created by linemates Kämpf and Aston-Reese. He can fish pucks out of scrums and head straight to the net, with the vision to find short passes. This tracks with his strengths in the AHL.
  • Bobby McMann was very energetic in the first period of the second game coming off his first season with the Marlies where he was in the middle six. He’s hoping to be the next Alex Steeves and bring some tenacity to the fourth line part-way through the season. His second and third periods were pretty quiet, unfortunately.
  • Aubé-Kubel came as advertised as an aggressive and tough forechecker.
  • Matthews and Bunting were having fun, showed lots of chemistry. No problems there.

Underwhelming Games

  • You know, I actually expected more out of Pontus Holmberg in this game. He has a straightforward game and was doing lots of right things, but he didn’t do anything to stand out. He wasn’t overly aggressive or quick, which I think are needed in the NHL. He should be looking hard at ZAR’s game and learn from it.
  • Not to rag on the guy on an AHL contract on a PTO here in camp but Marshall Rifai is definitely the worst defenseman of the 12 we saw today — Mete was a very close second worst. He struggled to move the puck or keep up with the play in every way.
  • William Villeneuve has looked really good in the rookie competitions and playing against his age group, but his footspeed is not yet ready for the above average forwards in the NHL. He’ll go to the Marlies where that’ll hopefully be his top strength and conditioning assignment. Villeneuve is generally good at reading plays and playing on the safer side, he’ll also need to keep up with the increased pace. It’s a big jump from the AHL to the NHL.
  • The whole bottom six in the second game I would consider very underwhelming. None of them are making the team and none of them are making a point to look capable of keeping up with the Senators defense.
  • Rielly and Brodie were playing at max 80% of their capabilities in this game. Rielly is one of the fastest defenders in the league and he looked very average, Brodie was mostly just watching hockey rather than playing. I’m not worried about either since it’s preseason, but it should be stated they didn’t play well. They looked flimsy on the 2-2 goal in the second game if you want to look for it. It was scored by some guy I’d never heard of.

All Goals

  • Justin Holl scored the first goal of the preseason with a shot from the corner with Fraser Minten in front. After Cam Talbot saved a lot of great chances, it’s funny that he gave up that.
  • Denis Malgin gets a second for the Leafs after a steal in the neutral zone by Nylander, drive past the net, and centering pass to the Swiss forward. Malgin owes Willy half his NHL salary this year, or at the very least concession dinner at the Leafs game tonight. Prices equivalent.
  • Alex Steeves made it three for the Leafs in the second period of the first game, tipping Giordano’s shot in front of the net. Better work for him in the second than the first. Steeves looked overly busy and trying to do too much in the first period, but those nerves seemed to be shaken off in the second period.
  • Steeves potted a second in the empty net to get the headlines. Leafs win 4-1 in the afternoon game.
  • Calle Järnkrok opened the scoring for the Leafs in the second game with a one-timer from Matthews. He’s looking good to go.
  • Calle Järnkrok scored again! His second goal of the game a near-identical one to his first.