The Toronto Maple Leafs are almost bumping against the start of the regular season. There’s one preseason game to go and still some cuts to make. As well, Auston Matthews remains out and will likely remain out for the last preseason game tonight against the Ottawa Senators.
Still, a lot has happened during the Maple Leafs’ training camp. So far, Maple Leafs’ fans have to like the look of three newcomers to the team.
Bunting, Ritchie and Kase: What They Bring
Michael Bunting has shown he can score, loves to be a pest in front of the next, and plays with an edge. He’s looked good playing with John Tavares and seems to be a good fit with the second line of Tavares and William Nylander. However, during the preseason head coach Sheldon Keefe has also shown a desire to lift Ilya Mikheyev to the second line, and Mikheyev’s played well, too.
Nick Ritchie looks and plays big, loves to take up residence in front of the net, and has good hand-eye coordination. He’s not Zach Hyman, and he brings a different element to the top line. However, it seems that coach Keefe has Ritchie slotted in with Matthews (although he’s not been there yet) and Mitch Marner. That line seems to be effective, but differently effective than the line was last season.
The third newcomer Ondrej Kase who – so far, knock on wood – seems to show no effect of the concussions that have haunted him for a couple of seasons now. And, if he can stay healthy, he shows that he brings an offensive element to the team. He’s a good player.
In fact, if the preseason is any indication of the regular season, the Maple Leafs look good – really, quite good. The moves that general manager Kyle Dubas has made to improve the team have seemed to do just that. And, right now, the team seems improved.
Going into the Last Preseason Game, Who’s Left and Where Are They Deployed
If the NHL regular season began right now, it looks as if the Maple Leafs’ second line would be Mikheyev or Bunting as the left-winger on John Tavares’ line. On the top line, the team would play Ritchie, Matthews, and Marner. But, what do the other lines look like? What’s happening in the bottom six?
Certainly, things will change when the last cuts are made. However, right now, what do things look like insofar as line combinations go? On Thursday, TSN’s Mark Masters wrote about the line combinations that were used during practice. What do they look like? And, what does this mean?
Maple Leafs’ Line Combinations During Thursday’s Practice
Line One: Ritchie – Matthews – Marner
Line Two: Mikheyev – Tavares – Kase
Line Three: Pierre Engvall – David Kampf – Wayne Simmonds
Line Four: Bunting – Alex Kerfoot – Jason Spezza
Remaining Forwards: Adam Brooks, Kirill Semyonov, Michael Amadio, Kurtis Gabriel
Top Pairing: Morgan Rielly – T.J. Brodie
Second Pairing: Jake Muzzin – Justin Holl
Third Pairing: Rasmus Sandin – Timothy Liljegren
Fourth Pairing: Travis Dermott – Alex Biega
Goalies: 1A Jack Campbell
1B Petr Mrazek
Power-play units at Thursday’s practice
Power-play Unit One: QB: Rielly
Flanks: Amadio, Matthews
Net front: Tavares
Power-play Unit Two: QB: Sandin
Flanks: Kase, Spezza
Net front: Ritchie
What Will Likely Change for the Maple Leafs After Tonight?
As far as the Maple Leafs’ forward units, one of the four remaining forwards: Brooks, Semyonov, Amadio, or Gabriel is likely to stick with the team. Of the four, Brooks and Semyonov are waiver exempt. That matters. If the team chooses speed over grit, Brooks will likely stick. Should the team choose grit, Gabriel is likely the player.
Perhaps a player is traded, and I’ve heard the rumor that Mikheyev has asked to be traded. If Mikheyev leaves, Semyonov might get a chance to take his place, and he’s cheaper by just over $800,000. That matters, too.
Looking at the defense, it’s likely that the player who’s impressed the coaching staff the most – between Sandin and Liljegren – will stick. Both are waiver exempt. Biega will likely be waived and move through waivers. He’s played well during preseason and can be useful if someone is hurt during the season.
Of course, all this is speculation. We’ll learn soon enough. The regular season is approaching.
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