Jake Gardiner is what most would consider a core player for the Leafs, and what often goes hand-in-hand with that sort of designation these days is a lot of debate over his true value. You see, when a team is as poorly managed and poorly coached as this one has been, it’s tough to get a read on how much their success (or in this case, lack thereof) is a product of talent level or the way players are being deployed, what tactics (if any) they’re using, and so on. Because of all this, Gardiner is seen as the best defenceman on the team by some, and a liability by others. Heading into this season, he doesn’t fit either of those titles.
As we all know, Gardiner was brought over to the Leafs as a prospect along with Lupul when they dealt Francois Beauchemin to the Ducks at the 2011 trade deadline. Gardiner had been selected by Anaheim in the first round (16th overall) three years prior, and spent his post-draft junior years with the University of Wisconsin, finishing up his last season there just after the trade with a point-per-game output of 41 in 41 for the Badgers.
What to expect
I think most Leafs fans are under the impression that Gardiner should see his game round out under Babcock and the fluctuations in his usage should level off a bit. Under Carlyle it seemed Gardiner was either the go-to guy on some nights while thrown completely under the bus on others, and that’s likely why fans are a little torn on what to think of him. But he is a talented player, perhaps the second-most on the Leafs’ blue line only to his pal Rielly. As they both look to take a step forward this season, Babcock seems to already be hinting he’ll likely rely on them heavily.
Mike Babcock says Jake Gardiner was Leafs best player by a mile tonight. Said he was impressed again by William Nylander.
— Jonas Siegel (@jonasTSN1050) September 23, 2015
Babcock: “I played Gardiner away from Rielly most of camp on purpose just bc I don’t want Jake taking a backseat to him”
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) September 29, 2015
In terms of offense, if Gardiner is going to get to settle into solid minutes, he could find himself up there with some nice company. Over his NHL career he’s already averaging about 30 points-per-season, and you wouldn’t really expect him to fall below that if he plays a full year. With better deployment and some puck luck, however, he could vault to the 40-point territory, and I certainly wouldn’t rule that out.
- World Junior Gold Medalist (Team USA) (2010)
- NHL All-Rookie Team (2011-12)