Today after the development camp scrimmage, Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Lou Lamoriello spoke to the media. One of his statements touched off a little tornado of interest around Timothy Liljegren.
#Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello says that top pick Timothy Liljegren will either return to Sweden to play in the SHL or stay to play with #Marlies— Michael Augello (@MikeInBuffalo) July 12, 2017
This is news. Maybe big news.
Breaking! It got bigger a few hours later and Liljegren signed his ELC. So that makes all this moot then? Nope, skip the part where I tell you why he won’t go to the OHL, and stay for the Marlies vs SHL discussion.
The reason you should stay for that is that having signed an NHL deal does not automatically rule out the SHL. Andreas Johnsson is just one example of a player signed to a Leafs deal who remained in Sweden. The expectation that a high draft pick like Liljegren would sign his ELC immediately post-draft is always high.
Not the OHL
No, not that the Niagara IceDogs selection of Liljegren in the import draft was a stunt, and he was never going to play in junior hockey. The news is that at 18, the Leafs are considering pulling Liljegren out of the SHL and playing him on the Marlies.
Liljegren outgrew junior hockey long before now, so the idea he would take a giant step back in quality of teammates and competition by moving down to the OHL was always a non-starter (sorry, Seldo). He played a little bit of junior last year in Sweden to help recover after his illness, and he was in the WJC, but he was and is a legitimate pro hockey player at the SHL level.
SHL vs AHL
So the issue is now: Should he go back to Sweden, to Rögle, or should he stay in Toronto and play for the Marlies? Lamoriello wouldn’t have mentioned the AHL if it wasn’t a genuine possibility.
Liljegren is under contract to Rögle for this season, but most SHL deals have NHL out clauses, so the move is possible. The Leafs likely could sign Liljegren to an ELC, put him on the Marlies, and he’d be ready for the NHL when he’s ready. That contract will slide for two years, because he is not 20 on September 15 until 2019.
Why do it? Why not just wave goodbye to him after a successful development camp and let him play another year in the SHL like William Nylander did post-draft?
One possible reason is that Rögle was a team that had to struggle to stay in the SHL, winning a crucial series to avoid relegation after a disappointing season was over. Carl Grundström went through that in MODO two years ago, experiencing a team sliding away into the Allsvenskan. He doesn’t sound happy when he talks about it, and he certainly flourished more with the much better Frölunda.
Lamoriello said Sweden, not Rögle. It’s possible that the team, who have eight other defenders under contract right now, could trade or loan Liljegren to a different team. Judging by the ages and origins of those other defenders, many of them older imports, Liljegren does not look to be getting top four minutes without a fight.
Would he in the AHL?
On the Marlies, the depth chart of players, all of them older than Liljegren, looks like this:
That’s a lot of bodies, but it’s not a lot of righties, although Alexey Marchenko seems to be surplus on the Leafs, so he might show up there. It still might be eight other guys to fight for ice time.
It comes down to coaching, development, and what the Leafs think is best. This is a bone of contention with Swedish hockey and Swedish fans. They want their players to stay home rather than go to the AHL. Which league is better is a bone of contention as well, but I don’t think either issue matters here. It’s which situation is right for the individual in question that is important.
My feelings come back to ice time, ice time, ice time. If he can get it on the Marlies, and the Leafs get to decide that, then he should play there, even if the list of AHL players who started at 18 and played more than 20 games in their first season is under 40 names long.
Two interesting names on that list are Alex Nylander and Jesse Puljujärvi. A. Nylander is one of only 8 players to ever play more than 60 games in the AHL at that age. William Nylander is one of the 40, but his first AHL campaign was only 37 games.
There are many more forwards who have done this than defenders, but one Leafs defender played a few games on the Marlies as he was just turning 19. Morgan Rielly had three points in 14 games. Liljegren can beat that, no problem.
I’m not even going to ask where you think he should go. I’ll ask where you want him to play:
Where do you want Timothy Liljegren to play this season?
This poll is closed
The Marlies! Woo hoo!
The SHL where no one but weirdo Swedish hockey fans will ever see him.