Why the young Toronto Maple Leafs should have every fan excited

nylander-kapanen

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I have touched on this topic a little bit in the past few months but that’s because it is a little hard to ignore; especially living in the city of Toronto.

The Maple Leafs aren’t a good hockey team, at least not yet, and it remains to be seen if they will be elite one day but I can assure you this: they’re definitely headed in the right direction.

The current version of the Leafs isn’t ideal nor is it a group you’ll see together next season but there are a number of players up right now who will be part of the Leafs now and in the future. From my assumption, this is who is here for the long haul barring anything drastic.

Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, William Nylander, Nikita Soshnikov, Zach Hyman, Martin Marincin and Frank Corrado. A strong argument can be made for the currently injured James Van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri; two forwards on the younger side along with goalie Garret Sparks. Overpaid veterans like Joffrey Lupul, Milan Michalek and Tyler Bozak could be moved if the Leafs find any suitors and Jonathan Bernier fits into that group as well. It remains to be seen what they intend to do with Leo Komarov and Peter Holland but my guess is they’ll be around next season along with the recently acquired Brooks Laich. After all despite Lupul, Michalek and Laich being paid a lot of money next season, it’s only on the books for that same amount of time and last time I checked, the Leafs need to fill some spots albeit temporarily. Let’s not forget a number of intriguing prospects developing in the AHL who have also seen time with the Leafs this year. Players like Josh Leivo, Kasperi Kapanen, Brendan Leipsic, Viktor Loov, Stuart Percy and goalie Antoine Bibeau.

Some of you may be saying “Well this group doesn’t seem that great on paper” and most of you are right but Rome wasn’t built in a day, and if anything has been proven it’s this: the Leafs won’t rush into anything. They’re getting there at a slow pace but that is exactly how you build a sustainable hockey team with resources that are aplenty. Let’s dig deeper, shall we.

Heading into the off-season, the Leafs will be drafting someone in the top 5. That includes Auston Matthews, Patrick Laine, Jesse Puljujarvi, defenceman Jacob Chychrun and potentially Keith Tkachuk. Realistically you can’t go wrong with a top prospect but assuming the hockey Gods are on Toronto’s side and not Edmonton’s for the 100th time in a row, they’ll draft one of Matthews, Laine or Puljujarvi. That instantly adds a potential franchise player to an already evolving group of young talent. Let’s assume for the sake of being audacious they land Matthews. There’s the possible franchise and number one centre the Leafs have been searching for for years. So along with Nylander, Marner, Soshnikov, Kapanen, Rielly etc. you’re adding a significant piece to the pile. Let’s continue.

I have yet to touch on or mention a handful of good prospects that have yet to crack the AHL (the exception being Connor Brown). Along with Brown, who by the way burst onto the scene last year with the Marlies as a rookie, the Leafs have Dmytro Timashov (QMJHL), Andrew Nielsen (WHL), Andreas Johnson (SweHL), Nikita Zaitsev (KHL) Jeremy Bracco (OHL) and Travis Dermott (OHL) who are all regarded as B prospects in many people’s eyes barring a huge fall off in development. Other than Brown and Zaitsev who will likely compete for a spot on the Leafs next fall, these young players are still a few years away from contributing to the Leafs but that’s the beauty of prospect depth; once you have it and you have an NHL team already loaded with talent, you can afford the patient approach.

*Zaitsev technically isn’t a Leaf yet but all indications are the 24 year-old free agent is going to sign in Toronto as he confirmed this to be true a little while back.

Let’s also add on to all of this with me reminding you all that the Leafs have 12 picks heading into this summer’s draft along with their own first round pick, Pittsburgh’s 1st from the Phil Kessel trade assuming of course the Penguins make the playoffs and a handful more. With an already solid group of front office talent evaluators, the Leafs are poised to add even more to an already solid group of prospects. Considering how thin the group was a few years back, this is a huge step.

Ozzy is going to be proud of me. I wrote a future based article on the Leafs without mentioning the possibility (and likely outcome) of the Steven Stamkos saga in Tampa Bay. Stamkos is a free agent at summer’s end so I’ll leave it at that.

 

 

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