With Joe Thornton out with injury, the Leafs have a solid top nine group of forwards that they’ll deploy on a given night — from Auston to Wayne. The order of those nine players on the top three lines seem to change game-to-game, but at the moment no one’s getting pushed to the fourth line.

After those nine guys and excluding Thornton, the Leafs have dressed seven forwards on their fourth line. Jason Spezza, Pierre Engvall, Alexander Barabanov, Travis Boyd, Joey Anderson, Adam Brooks, and poor Nick Robertson who is also injured. I have listed these players in order of total ice time this season, but I would like to know (salary cap aside) which three should be on the Leafs fourth line moving forward?

Looking at individual expected goals, Pierre Engvall leads the way with 0.62 per 60 minutes at 5v5, that number translates roughly to one goal every 10 games. Engvall has played up in the lineup this season, playing with Ilya Mikheyev and Wayne Simmonds that one time Matthews was out with a hand injury. I really enjoyed watching that line and thought they created some dangerous offensive chances around the net. Engvall has been praised this season for his mobility and playmaking which have shown well across the ice. He was given a bit of a hard time by Sheldon Keefe during training camp, but I think that was a good kick in the pants for him to play better. Knowing his waiver status (five more games), but I believe he’s reached beyond the point where his rights need to be sheltered in the minors. When Thornton comes back, he’s earned a spot on the roster above everyone else.

Looking at the rest, I want to focus on icetime. As the Leafs have gotten settled into the season, the icetime for the fourth line has slowly increased. Early in the year, the top six was saddled with playing more because the team needed the goals, but in last night’s game, Boyd’s fourth line with Engvall and Anderson got 10 minutes from Keefe at 5v5, double what Barabanov averaged (Spezza averages six minutes at 5v5 and nine minutes in all situations thanks to his special teams abilities).

Obviously we need more data — I would like to see Barabanov again just to see if he gets more than five minutes in front of a better team or if that’s all Keefe can trust out of him. If the latter is true, he’s probably at the bottom of this depth chart.

Despite being waived a week ago, Spezza only missed his first game of the season last night. He seems pretty safe for the roster, although Travis Boyd has put up a case to supplant him. Both are right-handed centres who can do the bare minimum Frederik Gauthier job, but Boyd has come in with a lot of energy on the forecheck. He’s quick and aggressive and it helped him stand out last night. He feels like a more conventional defensive 4C that the Leafs obviously want. Maybe they can both play together with Engvall on their left.

Anderson and Brooks played decently well in their one games this season. Unfortunately, I think they just fall to the numbers game right now with a semi-healthy roster. I’m sure we’ll see more of them in the future, I definitely won’t groan if I see them on the lineup card (unless Matthews/etc being out is the reason they’re in).

Which fourth line from the Leafs first 8 games was your favourite?

Game 1-2: Barabanov-Spezza-Simmonds4
Game 3: Robertson-Spezza-Simmonds123
Game 4-5: Spezza-Simmonds (11/7)12
Game 6: Barabanov-Brooks-Spezza7
Game 7: Barabanov-Engvall-Spezza38
Game 8: Engvall-Boyd-Anderson244

Various Hockey Branches

Frederik Andersen steals a win as Leafs beat Flames 4-3 | by: Arvind

Jack Campbell out for weeks | by: Katya

Fulemin’s Mailbag | by: Fulemin

The Leafs are trying to improve even-strength scoring | by: TSN

Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft Targets on Maple Leafs Roster | by: THW

Remembering George Armstrong

In case you missed the Matthew Tkachuk meltdown at the end of last game, here is a quick summary courtesy of Omar.

Get him Henny!

Damn you, Kevin!

From the game, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the Leafs played like this (aka ass) for more than half of it. Thank Mitch for saving us from a likely loss.