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This ranking should come as no shock to anyone. Liljegren is only one of two players eligible for this list who is a) a regular NHL player, and b) young enough that people still think that maybe, just maybe, he can improve a bit more to be even better than he has been. He's also only one of two players to have a full consensus for his ranking, along with #1 who should also be no surprise to anyone at this point.
|Age as of July 1
The question over just how good he's already been in the NHL and how much better – if at all – will be the only real debates for this ranking. Even though he has a consensus ranking across all of the voters this year, it very well could be the most debated comment section because of how differently people view him.
Timothy Liljegren was drafted 17th overall by Toronto in 2017. Of Toronto's own draft picks for players still eligible for this series, he is the highest drafted player. He had a lot of hype going into his draft year, and in scouting circles it was thought he could contend for first overall. A relatively disappointing draft season saw his hype and draft position slip, and he fell to Toronto much to our glee.
He jumped right into the AHL after being selected, where the debates about him began and never really stopped. He was taken with the reputation of being an offensive minded defenseman, and while his point production in the AHL for his age was quite good, it was clear that Toronto was working hard to make a more complete player out of him.
Because he didn't have gaudy point totals, and because scouting reports were not overly gushing about him, some people soured on him a bit. Or maybe it's more accurate to say they were a mixture of bored and impatient. Development is important but not exciting without points, even if most of his peers were still playing in junior where he was in the second best pro league in the world and surviving.
After playing two full seasons with the Marlies, he got his first taste of the NHL with 11 games back in 2019/20. With the pandemic, he got into two games but had his best AHL season by far. The next year he did play another 21 games in the AHL, but got his first real NHL stint – he played in 61 NHL games and had 23 points. He hasn't looked back, outside of a short rehab stint of two games with the Marlies this past season.
He has solidified himself as a competent third pairing guy who has been able to pitch in at all situations, and has been played up on a second pair – as long as he has someone who can cover for him. Like, say, a pre-injury riddled Jake Muzzin. In that sense, Liljegren become comparable to a Justin Holl. And really, that may seem disappointing to people because of his "first round pick" status but is pretty much in range for outcomes expected for a mid first rounder.
People always debate how good he actually is, going back to when he was drafted. I think he is a solid but unspectacular defenseman who is very good at a few things, average at others, and quite bad at a few things as well. The extremes between what he's very good at and very bad at are why I think he can be so polarizing. If you like the things he's good at and don't care about what he's bad at, you'll love him. If you're the opposite, he'll drive you crazy.
I am probably mostly in the middle, but more leaning towards the "love him" direction. I do like the things he does well – moving the puck, and defending transitions. I also acknowledge the things he is bad at – defending in his own end, mainly. For what it's worth, this past season was his worst NHL season by a good margin for his young career. I don't really believe he's as bad as he looks from that season anymore than I believe he was as good as he looked the season before. I just think he's okay.
Overall, to me Liljegren's impacts on the ice has skewed more positively than negatively. Even if he achieves those impacts more because of the team system or linemates he benefits from, he is at least at a level similar to a Justin Holl as I mentioned before. That has value, even if it is not spectacular and even though we'd all really like for him to turn into something more. At his age, another big improvement is not likely coming. But the certainty of what he is, as a good third pair/borderline second pair guy, has value.
Not much for me to explain about his votes, either from my vote personally or everyone else. We all ranked him second, I assume for more or less the same general reasons. There's no one else outside of him and our #1 that is in the same tier as "young, actual NHLers". Everyone else are much farther away as prospects or are more AHL/NHL tweeners. There was a clear line between our top two and everyone else as a result.
Here are the official votes, even though I already spoiled it:
Here's what the other voters had to say:
dhammm: Erstwhile CapFriendly trade machine throw-in, Liljegren is a proper top 4 defenseman, even if he looked a little scrambled post-deadline (as did the team as a whole). The expectation at this point is that he should continue to drive transition, remove flubs from his game, and improve at the defensive assignments involved with being an NHL defenseman, and those things will only come with playtime. Who knows, someday Keefe might even trust him and afford him a regular spot in the lineup? I'd prefer that to scratching him for low-variance comfort blankets who can't skate or move the puck as well as Lily can.
Cathy: This is a depressing comment so I’ll keep it short: I hope someday I feel stupid for not ranking Ethan Cowan second, otherwise this list is a total bust after number one. I don’t think Timothy Liljegren would have played more than 20 games last year if he shot left. I don’t think the calculus of his game solves to a number that is a net benefit to the team unless you use him so carefully, you have to fill in the rest of your roster to support him – why do that? I couldn’t in good conscience rank anyone higher or I would have.
Catch-67: I really like Liljegren. I find him really fun to watch, and I really do believe in his skills. I think Cathy’s analysis has convinced me to some extent that I’ve been too high on him in the past, but I really do think he has the skills to become a longterm top-4 guy. I don’t know if that will be in Toronto, but I think it will be somewhere.
The Bag: Liljegren has been a very interesting player to follow. Around 3 – 4 years ago, before he’d made it (has he made it?) with the Leafs, I asked Corey Pronman what we should expect of him. He said that NHL scouts were more divided about Liljegren than pretty much any other prospect he could remember: to some, Liljegren was a dynamic offensive player waiting to break out as a top-4 NHL defender, and to others, he’d never make the NHL because of his skating/decision making/defensive issues/etc. I think he is still a polarizing player, though the range of expectations has narrowed. I have no clue what his future looks like with the Leafs, but I like him, and I hope it works out.
That's what we all think, and now it's your turn! Do you think Liljegren is as good as his believers think, or as bad as his doubters believe, or somewhere in between? Do you think he still has time and room to make more developmental improvements to become a solid everyday second-pairing defenseman? Let us know!
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