Hockey. Is. Back.
It’s been 162 days since Maple Leafs fans saw another game 7 loss at the hands of the Boston Bruins but tonight, Toronto starts yet another season full of hope and promise.
The roster has changed dramatically in the last year. Key pieces from last year like Nazem Kadri, Patrick Marleau, Connor Brown, Jake Gardiner, Nikita Zaitsev are gone. The fresh new faces include Tyson Barrie, Alex Kerfoot, Cody Ceci, Timothy Liljegren and 19-year-old Rasmus Sandin. Not to mention full seasons from Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, Jake Muzzin, and Trevor Moore.
With all the roster turnover, it’s tough to pinpoint exactly what’s in store for the Maple Leafs this season. They’re going to score a lot of goals, win a lot of games and they’re very likely headed to the playoffs. Saying all that is easy, so here are 5 more specific and bold predictions for the 2019-20 season.
1. Rasmus Sandin is here to stay, Timothy Liljegren is not.
Rasmus Sandin, the Maple Leafs 29th overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, has leapfrogged Timothy Liljegren as the top prospect in Toronto’s system. Last year as an 18-year old Sandin looked fantastic in the AHL, and in the preseason he didn’t look out of place in any way for the big club. It’ll be interesting to see if he can keep it up when the pace picks up in the regular season, but I’m betting he does and never wears the Toronto Marlies jersey again. As for Liljegren, injuries have been his biggest hurdle. Liljegren played just 87 games over the last two seasons with the Toronto Marlies, and although he’s made the team out of camp I expect he’ll find himself playing big minutes for Sheldon Keefe sooner rather than later.
2. William Nylander bounces back in a big, big way
Everyone knows how William Nylander’s season went last year. He missed camp and wasn’t good when he returned to the team in December. But a lot of people seemed to forget that he had back-to-back 60 point seasons the years prior. He has a full camp under his belt, he’s destined to play with Auston Matthews and Andreas Johnsson, and he’s destined to return to form this season for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
3. Powerplay is number one
Morgan Rielly will anchor one, Tyson Barrie will anchor the other. When it comes to quarterbacks for their powerplays, the Maple Leafs have one of the best duos in the NHL. On top of the two puck-moving defencemen, Toronto’s forward depth is unbelievable. John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Alex Kerfoot, Andreas Johnsson, and Kasperi Kapanen are the bigger names upfront for Toronto, so they don’t lack the shooters and passers to launch Toronto’s powerplay to the top of the NHL. The biggest difference this season though will be from the bench: Paul McFarland. McFarland joins Mike Babcock’s staff after leading the Florida Panthers powerplay to a #1 finish last season, and his new system will give Toronto that extra boost.
4. John Tavares and Auston Matthews make history
Gary Leeman, Rick Vaive and Dave Andreychuk are the only 50 goal scorers in Toronto Maple Leafs history. This season, Auston Matthews and John Tavares are both going to do it. Yeah, you read that right. The last time a team in the NHL had two 50-goal scorers in the same season was the Pittsburgh Penguins in ’95-’96 when Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux did it. Combining the potency of the powerplay, and the fact that both players are playing with quality scoring wingers, Toronto’s 50 goal club is growing by two this season.
5. How deep will they go?
In 2017 it was the Washington Capitals, in both 2018 & 2019, it was the Boston Bruins. All first-round exits for the Maple Leafs, who are still searching for their first series win since the 2004 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Do they finally do it this year? Absolutely, and then some. Not only will the Maple Leafs win their first-round series this year, but I believe with the veteran additions of Tyson Barrie and a full year of Jake Muzzin, Toronto had the skill and leadership to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals this season.