The Toronto Maple Leafs are starting to gear up for the coming season. The word is that Maple Leafs GM Brad Treliving is not yet happy with the way the team’s defense is shaping up. However, all is quiet. With the team flirting with the salary cap’s upper limits, it might be tough to get the kind of tough, rugged, physical defenseman that Treliving is rumored to have in mind.
If that’s the case, the team might have to go with what it has. And, while the top defensemen are experienced and pretty good offensively, they are not physical.
Is Timothy Liljegren the X-Factor for the Maple Leafs?
Perhaps, there’s someone laying in the weeds who might pop up just when the team needs him. That someone is defenseman Timothy Liljegren. During the 2022-23 regular season, Liljegren made some huge strides in his play. However, at the season’s end during the playoffs, he didn’t get the kind of minutes that he would have liked.
The team brought in defensive reinforcements and Liljegren was shuffled to the background. Still, he’s made huge strides in his development. Part of his success came because he was playing alongside one of the most experienced defensemen in the NHL. That was Mark Giordano.
Giordano has helped other young players gain valuable learning as they got more ice time. This season, however, it might be Liljegren’s time to take a step on his own. He’ll for sure get more shifts in the team’s lineup because, really, there might be no other choice.
It’s Time for Liljegren to Step Up His Game
Liljegren faces the challenge of stepping up his game and eating up some important minutes. The Maple Leafs are counting on him. Can he become one of their emerging core players? Can he elevate his own defensive prowess and, by doing so, help his team strengthen their defense?
During the 2022-23 season, Liljegren partnered mostly with fellow blueliners Rasmus Sandin and Giordano. However, now that Sandin has departed for the Washington Capitals and with the likelihood that Giordano will assume a reduced role, Liljegren’s partnership dynamics will change.
But who will that new partner be? That decision could significantly impact the team’s defensive strategy.
Guessing Who Liljegren’s New Partner Will Be
All signs point to Liljegren potentially joining forces with either Jake McCabe or John Klingberg. The pairing decision may hinge on Coach Sheldon Keefe’s strategy, including whether he opts to maintain the top pairing of Morgan Rielly and T.J. Brodie. Last season saw Liljegren have some notable moments partnering with Rielly. Does that suggest the possibility of him stepping into the top pair role?
If Toronto’s blueline is to grow to its next level, Liljegren’s progress will play a key role. Liljegren has the makings of a strong defenseman. His stickwork is good and he has a knack for redirecting opposing forwards on the rush.
He has the ability to move the puck quickly up the ice with good first passes. If there’s any issue at all, it’s doing it game after game. He needs to become more consistent in his on-ice performance.
Can Liljegren Seize the Opportunity?
For some reason, it seems that head coach Sheldon Keefe’s trust in Liljegren’s capabilities isn’t strong. Will Keefe give Liljegren the chance to grow? If he’s given a chance to step into a top-four role, there’s a good chance (at least in my thinking) that Liljegren’s transition could become just a matter of course.
The Maple Leafs must be counting on Liljegren’s ability to become a huge part of the team’s defensive unit. He could become – new additions or not – one of the keys to creating a stable and strong defensive unit.
The Bottom Line
As the season begins, Liljegren is at a crossroads. I fully expect him to grow into one of the keys to this Maple Leafs’ team. He has a well-rounded skill set and a huge potential for growth.
This season might be Liljegren’s best opportunity to define his role on the Maple Leafs blue line. Fans should look for Liljegren to take his next step forward. He needs to do so if his team is to be successful.
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