There’s no question the Toronto Maple Leafs have been on an uphill climb since winning the 2016 Draft Lottery. Marquee rookie Auston Matthews came to town, dazzling Leafs Nation by scoring four goals in his first NHL game against the Ottawa Senators. Mitch Marner added to the excitement the same year, concluding the campaign with 61 points in 77 games.
Fast forward to today: Auston Matthews has never scored sub-30 goals in his three-year career, and Mitch Marner tallied an astounding 94 points last season.
Unfortunately, the individual success of Toronto’s young guns has yet to translate into a legitimate Stanley Cup run. We are yet to see the Maple Leafs perform at their full potential in the playoffs, despite solid regular-season campaigns.
So, what needs to change, or stay the same? Here are three keys to success for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2019-20.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Three Keys to Success in 2019
Mike Babcock & Line Combinations
Kyle Dubas addressed a gap in the defensive core by adding Tyson Barrie to the roster this summer, in addition to less-notable defenseman Cody Ceci. The young GM also acquired Alex Kerfoot in the offseason. The 25-year old has yet to reach his prime and is expected to be Toronto’s third-line centre.
Unfortunately, faulty line combinations and mismanagement of mid to high tier players was a common conception Leafs fans had about Babcock’s coaching last season.
Auston Matthews was rarely used during the dying minutes of important games. This happened most notably in the Leafs series vs. Boston. Somehow, it seemed as though the use of Patrick Marleau and William Nylander was of greater importance. Matthews played 18:48 in Game 7, a number that should have been around 22-23 minutes. He finished the playoffs in 35th place among forwards for ice-time played.
With a bounce-back season on the horizon for William Nylander, it is plausible he will rejoin Matthews on the second line. The two could have been reunited when Nylander began to pick up steam at the end of last season, but Babcock seemed deterred by the possibility.
All-in-all, Dubas has provided Mike Babcock with pieces to manage a successful squad. It’s time for Babcock to figure out the compatibility of the roster and utilize his players accordingly.
Improving Defence Internally
As stated above, GM Kyle Dubas has done his part in improving the Toronto Maple Leafs defensive core. However, Toronto also has a couple of homegrown players that could be ready to make the jump in Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren.
Due to the fact that Liljegren is a right-handed defenseman, the likelihood of him fitting onto Toronto’s current roster is higher than his AHL counterpart. Both players have a plethora of potential that Toronto should look to utilize in the near future.
Why is the Toronto Maple Leafs defense situation still a topic of discussion? It’s not that it’s below-par, per se. Rather, Frederik Andersen can never have too much support on the blueline. He deserves it after carrying them on his back since his tenure in Toronto began.
Don’t Fix Anything that isn’t Broken
There are three players who stole the hearts of Leafs fans in 2018-19. Their roles should either stay the same or be promoted. If the Toronto Maple Leafs want to heighten their success next season, nurturing the growth of these players is crucial.
RW – Third Line
Kapanen’s ‘Good-Bye’ speed had opponents spinning last season. Unfortunately, his status alongside Auston Matthews has been threatened by William Nylander heading into 2019-20. He’ll be the star of the Leafs third line, playing with Kerfoot and Moore.
LW – Second Line
Talk about a breakout season – Andreas ‘Mango’ Johnsson was a powerhouse for the Leafs on the second line. Paired with Auston Matthews, the 24-year old Swede showed us what he’s made of. Expect his ceiling to remain as a second line winger.
LW – Third line
Trevor Moore will secure a spot on the third line for more than 25 games next season. If the 24-year old is given decent minutes alongside Kerfoot and Kapanen, expect to see his PPG average increase.
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