One thing we we know about the Toronto Maple Leafs is that the team has two gaping holes in the top-six at left-wing. Who on the current roster will fill them?
Maple Leafs General Manager Kyle Dubas Went Out to Sign Left-Wingers
Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas actively sought to solve the left-wing problem by signing two options during the offseason. Those players were Nick Ritchie and Michael bunting. In addition, the Maple Leafs have several possible left wingers who are already incumbent members of the roster.
In this post, I’d like to spend time ranking those left-wingers. One of the key needs of the team will be to figure out who’ll replace the departed Zach Hyman on the left-wing of center Auston Matthews’ top line. As well, without Alex Galchenyuk signed anywhere but unlikely to return to the Maple Leafs, there’s a hole to fill on the second line.
There’s So Much We Don’t Know Yet About the New Players
One issues with ranking the left-wingers is that so much is unknown about the new players who are on the roster. We don’t yet know how they’ll fit on the team. At the same time, there are internal possibilities of movement to the top-six unit. Not the least of these is the question of what to do with third-line centre Alex Kerfoot.
It’s possible to move Kerfoot onto the left-wing at one of the top six positions, and perhaps move David Kampf to become the third-line center. That would work to create that shutdown defensive checking line that head coach Sheldon Keefe has wanted to build since last season.
It’s really difficult to say how the Maple Leafs will deploy their left-wingers. That said, it’s worth looking at the possibilities.
Player One: Nick Ritchie
Maple Leafs’ fans have to believe that Ritchie will not only make the roster but should jump right into one of the top-six, left-wing spots on either the Matthews’ or the John Tavares’ line. The Maple Leafs are hoping Ritchie can fill the void left by Zach Hyman five-on-five. He’s probably ranked right now as the leading candidate to assume of the top-six left-wing positions. I’m guessing it will be on Matthews’ line with Mitch Marner as the other winger.
Player Two: Alex Kerfoot
I’m guessing that Kerfoot will remain as the team’s third-line centre. He’s too good at that position and too well-paid to move anywhere else. For example, if he were moved to top-line minutes as a member of the top-six, someone else would have to take his place on the penalty kill. And that’s a spot where he excels. As a result, I’m guessing Kerfoot stays at the centre position on the third line, which allows him to play a great deal on special teams.
Player Three: Ilya Mikheyev
It might be that Ilya Mikheyev will be traded. If so, it would be a complete salary cap move and because the organization has come to believe that Michael Bunting could fill his role for about $700,000 less salary as a cap hit. However, if Mikheyev isn’t traded, he’ll certainly make the team and could have a chance at one of the top-six, left-wing positions. One problem with moving him to the top-six full time is that he has such great defensive value, which makes him the go-to guy who can be thrown over the boards to face some of the opposition’s better players.
Although Mikheyev showed a frustrating lack of finish last season, he’s a treasure of energy, has decent size, and surprising speed. He’s also sound defensively. My guess is that he’ll be a winger with Kerfoot on the third line.
Player Four: Michael Bunting
Michael Bunting seems like a lock to make the roster; and, he has an outside of chance as becoming a replacement for Hyman on one of the top-six units. My guess is that Bunting will be given that chance. Although he’s a bit smaller than Hyman was at 5-foot-11 and a 195 pounds, he plays a similar game. Bunting isn’t afraid to go to those corner
scrums or hang out in front of the net.
He’s almost 26, but he’s only played 26 games in the NHL. Still, given that small sample size, he’s scored 11 goals. The high number of goals for that short time frame probably isn’t sustainable, but who knows? My guess is that Bunting will start the season in one of the left-wing positions in the top-six.
Player Five: Nick Robertson
Nick Robertson might be the best prospect in the Maple Leafs’ organization, but he’s a longshot to even make the
roster this season because he’s waiver-exempt. That likely means that Robertson will have a year more to develop his skills in the AHL. However, even if he initially moves to the AHL Toronto Marlies’ dressing room, Maple Leafs’ fans will likely see Robertson regularly because he can move up and down between the two teams so freely.
Player Six: Joey Anderson
Joey Anderson probably won’t make the Maple Leafs’ roster this season. It’s also likely the team will try to sneak him through waivers, which I don’t think will successfully happen. Sadly, Anderson seems to be the odd man out as far as forwards go on the team’s roster. He doesn’t shy away from a physical game; but, similar to Bunting, he’s 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds. The Maple Leafs seem to have an abundance of 5-foot-11 players who weigh 185 pounds. Unless he has stellar camp, he seems destined for the Marlies; that is, if he can clear waivers.
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