A WAAAAAYYYYY Too Early Assessment of what the Leafs need, From Least to Most

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The Very Leastest: Obviously, what the Leafs need the very least is goal scoring. With 12 goals through 2 games and half of those being scored by Auston Matthews, courtesy of back to back hat tricks to start the season, the Leafs are doing just fine in the goal scoring department. Following Matthews is William Nylander with 3 goals and Calle Jarnkrok, Tyler Bertuzzi and Noah Gregor, with a single tally each.

The Leastest: A better powerplay strategy. At 57.1% the Leafs powerplay is 1st in the NHL. Will it stay there? Yeah, it will. Don’t believe me? I don’t care. Take it up with the complaints department, which is headed by powerplay coach, Guy Boucher. He’s as mean as he looks by the way.

Credit where credit is due, John Klingberg has looked great with the man advantage. He’s mobile, has great vision and is a threat to score. That, combined with the fact that two of Matthews’ 6 goals came with the man advantage, has the powerplay looking very solid. The 2nd unit looks sharp as well, which isn’t something we’ve been able to say often over the past few years. They’ve tallied just 1 goal with the man advantage so far, but in their defense they’ve spent less than 2 minutes on the ice as a unit so far this season, as compared to almost 8 minutes for the first unit.

The Least: Forward depth. There should be no argument here, but there will be. To those that want to argue I say shut it, you’re wrong (also, read the title again you mope)!! The Leafs have been plagued by a lack of forward depth for years now, mostly due to the fact that they’ve been so strapped for cap space that they haven’t been able to afford a decent 4th liner. Also of note is the fact that they haven’t been producing much in the way of home grown talent outside of their 1st rounders…… until now. The emergence of 2nd round selections Matthew Knies and Fraser Minten has given the Leafs 2/3rds of what could grow into a very good 3rd line. While mock lineups over the summer included players such as Dylan Gambrell, Bobby McMann and Pontus Holmberg, none of whom stole a roster spot at training camp, it’s Knies and Minten that pushed those players to the minor leagues and improved the depth on the NHL roster. They’ve yet to hit the scoresheet, but both are playing around 13 minutes a night and have looked pretty good doing it. That’s not to say that there haven’t been some tense moments, specifically last night where they were caught in a mismatch after icing the puck and were forced to play a shift that lasted almost 2 minutes, but they came out unscathed and it’s moments like those that will help them learn and grow. It’s players like this, that can play a regular shift and do it while on their ELCs that teams need in order to have true depth.

The Most: Consistency. The Leafs went down 2-0 against the Habs in game 1, only to come back with 3 unanswered goals to end the 2nd period. The 3rd period started with a 1 goal lead and the Leafs allowed an inferior team to take it to them at a very important time in the game. After scoring 3 unanswered goals of their own the Habs remembered that they’re terrible and allowed 2 goals from Auston Matthews to sneak through while the Leafs had the goalie pulled. Overtime solved nothing and a shootout goal from Marner sealed the win and the 2pts, but it was a back and forth affair with their biggest rival, who always seems to show up for games against the Leafs no matter how bad they are.

That game was followed by one that saw the Leafs take a 4-1 lead over the Minnesota Wild, only to take their foot off the gas and allow the Wild to get within 1 goal of a tie. After a few well deserved “It was 4-1!!” jokes they weathered the storm and half way through the 3rd they managed 3 goals in just over 2 minutes of play.

Championship teams can also score in bunches like the Leafs do, but they know how to shut things down when the opposition starts gaining momentum and thats something the Leafs have never been successful at doing. If they could clean up their game and be more consistent defensively I’d start believing in their group a little more.

The Mostest: Defensive depth. While the team has the tools up front to ice at least 3 effective lines, I’m not sure they can say the same thing about their blueline. According to Elliott Friedman the Leafs asked the Oilers about Vincent Desharnais, but the Oilers like the player and didn’t want to move him. I believe this is what Brad Treliving’s focus is going to be directed towards the most throughout the season. Desharnais is a 6’6″ 215lb defender that shoots right, which is the type of size they’re missing from the lineup. While I’m of the opinion that they need to add a player with that frame to the lineup, but one that can play 20 safe minutes a night, it’s very likely that they’ll attempt to add a couple of players that are capable of clogging up the ice like only 6’6″ skaters can do.

Making matters worse has been the play of the Jake McCabe and John Klingberg pairing. While their special teams play has been just fine, it appears that every time the other team gets a good chance it’s this pairing thats on the ice. Klingberg is the second coming of Jake Gardiner (yes, I stole that from some guy) and McCabe isn’t his defensively steady self. Maybe pairing him with Klingberg is asking too much or maybe he’s just having a rough start to the season, but something has to give with those two. T.J. Brodie is showing signs of age, Mark Giordano is age incarnate and Timothy Liljegren doesn’t appear to have taken the extra step forward in his development that I had hoped he would. Morgan Rielly has been okay. So there’s that.

If the team has a rash of injuries to the backend, such as they did last season, I’d be very concerned about their ability to hold things together. Rasmus Sandin and Mark Giordano stepped up during that time last season, but this time around I’m not sure that the aging Giordano could handle the extra responsibility. Further down the roster they’d have to turn to Simon Benoit and/or Mikko Kokkonen, that is until Connor Timmins returns from injury, and those options are questionable.

The Leafs are more desperate for a top 4 defender than they will admit, but they need it the mostest.

The Very Mostest: As for what they need the very mostest, it’s somebody to make a save. Ilya Samsonov is sporting a 4.42GAA and a 0.839SV% despite his 2 wins (tied for 1st in the NHL!!). While we haven’t had the opportunity to see Joseph Woll in action yet, the young netminder hasn’t managed to play in more than 33 games in a single season in his 4 year professional career due to injuries. Even if he stepped in and played well, it’s likely that he’d be injured too often to comfortably rely on as a starting goaltender. Their 3rd string goalie is Martin Jones, who had a solid camp and posted 27 wins last year for the Seattle Kraken. This means he’s a great 3rd string goalie but Jones hasn’t posted decent numbers in the NHL since the 2017/18 season and isn’t the answer in goal.

They’ll stick with Ilya Samsonov for the time being and Joseph Woll may have found himself at the heart of a golden opportunity if Sammy continues to play the way he has, but at this point in time they simply need somebody to stop some pucks.