Of course, with immediate success comes some exponential growth in the team's expectations and seeing as though those expectations are coming from a market like Toronto, they will be ridiculously high and it will be a true measure of these young player's character, to see how well they can handle them.
There is little doubt that the kids like Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen have NHL level talent and they'll be exceptional players, but not only will they have to battle through those expectations, they'll also have to contend with the dark cloud that could be the sophomore jinx. I might harp on this a lot, but in a market like Toronto, it will make for a tough year, if their numbers don't get off the ground quickly and the results aren't positive right off the hop.
Thankfully, the Leafs have done a good job adding a little bit more veteran help in a guy like Patrick Marleau, Dominic Moore and Ron Hainsey, so they can help with the development of these kids, but there will only be so much they can do. It might be best to temper some of those expectations in year number two, but I don't think it will necessarily take away from how dynamic they are on the ice, because they'll still be skating like the wind. It's still going to be an entertaining year at the centre of the universe.
|James Van Riemsdyk||F||60||N|
Table last updated on August 14th
Most Intriguing or Breakout Player
What does Auston Matthews have for us as an encore to his rookie season? If there was one sophomore that I think is the exception to the rule, much like the 1st overall pick the year before him, this kid is the real deal. Matthews scored 40 goals as a rookie last season and you wouldn't have even known that he was a rookie most nights, if you weren't bombarded with that information with every Leafs broadcast.
I'm not quite sure that Matthews is going to be a 100-point player in the coming season, like his year older counterpart, but he should inch closer to becoming a point-per-game player and should only get closer to those upper echelon numbers, when the players around him are scoring around him and giving him the assists. Nevertheless, he's a 1st round pick in my books and he's a good horse to bet on this year.
First Round Picks
Along with Matthews, we saw a lot of minutes for goaltender Frederik Andersen last year, which worked out really well for him, as he found his groove and posted some pretty good numbers. I think the Leafs have done well enough to round out their roster, where they should be able to find their way back to playoffs, making Andersen into a very good pick.
Other Pool Worthy Forwards
The Leafs don't appear to be short on scoring talent in their forward ranks, even with some tempered expectations. Nazem Kadri and James Van Riemsdyk will have to use their experience in Toronto to help out the rest of the club, as they have been managing Toronto expectations for a while. Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Tyler Bozak, Patrick Marleau, Kasperi Kapanen and Leo Komarov are all projected for good seasons, which is the leading reason why they'll be so dangerous this year.
Other Pool Worthy Defense
The Leafs also have three solid defenders who can move the puck and pick up those key points throughout the season as well. Jake Gardiner, Morgan Rielly and Nikita Zaitsev all had great seasons last year and if the forwards are rolling, the puck got to them somehow, so these guys should roll right along with them, not to mention potting a couple goals on the power play as well.
Behind Andersen, it's projected to be Curtis McElhinney again this season and he's always been a very serviceable back-up, even from a hockey pool perspective. I have McElhinney putting up some decent numbers again, assuming that the Leafs are going to win all of these extra games. The time should be split about the same way as last season, so it could really work out for the 34-year old backup.
Team To Pick From Late?
There isn't going to be a lot left, if these Leafs players are going to be taken in the middle rounds of the draft. It doesn't look like you'll make it to the depth of the team's forwards before the end of the draft, so I don't think this is a big concern.
Unsigned Players and Salary Cap
The Leafs do have a key restricted free agent still left on the board, forward Connor Brown, who was a 20-goal scorer last season and could also figure into being pool worthy, if he gets that contract done.
Unfortunately, the Leafs are already dipping into the Long Term Injured Reserve with their current roster and in that, they do still have some space they could use, but they're walking a fine line by doing so. Nathan Horton and Joffrey Lupul will make up $10.55 million in possible cap relief, if needed, but it's not an ideal situation for this team.
So, besides the long-term injuries that will offer the team cap relief, the Leafs had one injury concern at the end of the playoffs in defenseman Nikita Zaitsev, who suffered a concussion and couldn't finish the year on the ice. No word on his condition, but one could assume that he should be good to go, with the long layoff in the summer. Patrick Marleau played through a broken thumb in the playoffs with the Sharks, but those bones heal in no time, especially in the summer. He should be good to go for camp.