Since the Leafs started to be actually good in Matthews’ rookie season, they’ve not been a very balanced or deep team. They had tons of talent at forward, but also mostly on the wing. They had a short window with Matthews, Tavares and Kadri, but their lack of NHL depth at center led them to making multiple trade deadline deals to acquire the likes of Brian Boyle and Tomas Plekanec.
There’s been the same story on defense. Their good defensemen were both offensively focused (Rielly, Gardiner) and left-shots. When they finally acquired Muzzin and Dermott was establishing himself at least as a viable third pair guy in the NHL, Gardiner’s back limited his effectiveness.
It’s actually been the same story in net. Frederik Andersen has been, for the most part, good to very good but with little help at backup — except a brief stint with McEhinney and another brief stint with Jack Campbell last year.
It’s been the same in their prospect pool. Their good prospects for the longest time were pretty much all forwards: Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, Connor Brown, Zach Hyman, Andreas Johnsson, and Pierre Engvall all came to the team in the span of 2-3 seasons. We thought The Leafs might have others in Nikita Soshnikov and Jeremy Bracco. All of them were forwards. All but Matthews and maybe Engvall were wingers.
The Leafs had Travis Dermott as our lone defensive prospect, but now we have Sandin and Liljegren. The Leafs also have Mikko Kokkonen and Topi Niemela. And the great thing about those four is that they’re balanced between offense and defense, right shots and left shots. They may not all be stars, but they present potential depth that the Leafs have lacked in the pipeline until now.
The same applies to centers. Now they have Roni Hirvonen, Mikhail Abramov, Dmitri Ovchinnikov, and Semyon Der-Arguchintsev. Again, they may not be stars, they may not stick at center at higher levels and may not even make the NHL, but they’re interesting prospects who are centers. And don’t count out Joe Thornton either! He’s been playing in Switzerland, you know!
And the Leafs still have skilled wingers in the pipeline as well, headlined by Nicholas Robertson and Rodion Amirov. But even behind them are Filip Hallander, Yegor Korshkov, Nick Abruzzese, Pontus Holmberg, and Veeti Miettinen.
The same is starting to apply for the Leafs at the NHL level now, too. They still have Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin. They added TJ Brodie to the bunch who is a capable defensive-defender who can play the right side. Justin Holl can at least play with Muzzin as a good second pair. They have a surprising amount of sudden depth for their third pair (and potential fill-ins for the second pair) in Dermott, Lehtonen, Bogosian, and maybe Rasmus Sandin as a longshot.
They have depth at center as well. Matthews and Tavares still lock down their top two lines, and behind them is a mix of Kerfoot, Engvall, Spezza, and Thornton. Behind them are Travis Boyd and maybe Adam Brooks. And they still have some interesting depth on the wing with Vesey, Simmonds, Mikheyev, and Barabanov. Even in goal, they have potential depth in Campbell and Dell (if he gets through waivers).
I don’t necessarily think this all means the Leafs are a better team now, or a real contender. But it’s... comforting. They don’t have any obvious holes in the roster — well, not obvious holes that are huge as they used to be anyways. They have NHL capable players fighting for roster spots who can fill in as well as you can expect replacements to do. They have a deep prospect pool, even if they lack higher end guys of a tanking team.
ONTO THE LINKS
In Praise Of Prospects Who Don’t Make It | by Acting the Fulemin
Prospect Roundup: Return of Rodion, Finland’s finest, Abramov unleashed | by Nick Richard at TLN
Analyzing the defending style of Maple Leafs’ TJ Brodie | by Justin Bourne at Sportsnet
Some prospect highlights from yesterday:
Roni Hirvonen (TOR) gets a primary assist on Ässät's opening goal of the game. Hirvonen is now up to five goals and nine points in 19 games this season. #Leafs pic.twitter.com/V6396fNTMu— Lassi Alanen (@lassialanen) November 27, 2020
Axel Rindell scores his second goal of the season. #Leafs pic.twitter.com/JPOboAQDur— Lassi Alanen (@lassialanen) November 27, 2020
#Leafs prospect Axel Rindell wires a shot off the post and Teemu Henritius bangs home the rebound for the OT winner. Rindell finished the day with 1 goal and 2 assists, bringing him to 11 points in 16 games. pic.twitter.com/zhX73OBzit— Nick Richard (@_NickRichard) November 27, 2020
AROUND THE HOCKEY WORLD
Hockey Canada faces uncertainty as registration numbers plummet | by Sean Fitz-Gerald at The Athletic
Registration for sanctioned Canadian hockey programs fell to its lowest number in almost a decade last season, as a pandemic mixed with worrying trends to leave Hockey Canada searching for ways to keep existing players on the rolls while also attracting new families to the game.
Almost 38,000 fewer players signed up to skate in 2019-20, according to the national governing body’s latest annual report, and that represents a six percent drop from the previous year. The total number of players (605,963) reached its lowest point since 2010-11.
I hate to say they’re reaping what they sowed. But... you fuckers are reaping what you’ve sown.
Q&A: Willie O’Ree reflects on his journey on becoming the first black NHL player | by Raegan Subban at TSN
Now you’re the NHL’s Director of Youth Development and Ambassador for NHL Diversity. Has anyone ever continued to make discouraging comments about your current position within the league?
Yes, even after I retired from professional hockey, I’ve gotten racial remarks and racial slurs. I just let it go in one ear and out the other. I’ve learned to, you know, accept these slurs and remarks that are directed towards me.
Have a happy Saturday everyone!