One of the biggest questions of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ early season is who will play the two left-wing spots in the team’s top-six. During the offseason, Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas brought in two free agents as possibilities – Nick Ritchie (who last played with the Boston Bruins) and Michael Bunting (who last played with the Arizona Coyotes).
Related: A Review of the Maple Leafs Prospects Tournament: Who Looked Good?
It’s Early in the Maple Leafs’ Training Camp, But There Are Indications
Although it’s early in the Maple Leafs’ training camp, there are some indications about who head coach Sheldon Keefe is thinking should play with whom and about the deployment of the two newcomers on the team’s roster. And, indeed, both Bunting and Ritchie seem to have a good shot at making the team’s top-six.
If the NHL regular season began right now, it looks as if the Maple Leafs’ second line would be Michael Bunting as the left-winger on John Tavares’ line. However, as I noted, it’s early yet and changes are constantly being made. For example, we had no word about William Nylander.
And, things were changing from day to day. For example, Bunting and Tavares had Ondrej Kase at the right-wing spot on Day 1 of the training camp with Josh Ho-Sang taking that spot on Friday. So, we’re not sure who’s playing where quite yet. [It’s nice to see Kase on the ice because there was some concern he’d be on the injured reserve.]
One thing we can be sure of is that Bunting’s happy to be with the Maple Leafs. Not only is it close to home for him, but he was forthright with the media during interviews on Friday that one of the main reasons he signed with the Maple Leafs during the offseason was that he loved the idea of playing with someone like Tavares.
Obviously, we don’t know where Bunting will land yet, and it might take part of the regular season to settle the issue. However, it seems pretty clear that he’s competing for a top-six spot on one of the forward lines.
Group One Line Combinations As of Friday Mid-Morning
During mid-morning on Friday, TSN’s Kristen Shilton tweeted out the early Group 1 line combinations.
According to her tweet, with Auston Matthews out with his wrist injury, Adam Brooks became the center on a line with Nick Ritchie at the left-wing and Mitch Marner in his regular right-wing spot during the first two days of training camp.
In addition to Ritchie, that deployment might spell good news for Brooks, who looks as if he’s being counted on to assume a primary fill-in role in case of an injury. It also suggests that Ritchie might help form the team’s top line, with Matthews as center and Marner on the right side. Early, early indications suggest that Ritchie should be viewed as the favorite to play on the Maple Leafs’ top line to start the 2021-22 season.
Related: The Puzzle That’s Maple Leafs Josh Ho-Sang Still Has a Piece Missing
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