Last night, Maple Leafs General Manager Lou Lamoriello appeared on The Fan 590 to discuss the rest of the season as well as the future of the franchise. In a year that has been one of the most trying in terms of the on-ice product, the fans have been willing to live with the losses because we have bought into the plan of the front office. For the first time in a long while, the Maple Leafs appear to be on a well thought out path that involves building from the ground up and requires a tremendous amount of patience. Lou discussed this process and gave a glimmer of light to a fan base that is looking for something to latch on to.
“We have stuck with what we had planned to do, which is sometimes very difficult”
Lamoriello discussed how hard it is to be patient with young talent, especially when they are having a great year and you know they can help your NHL team. Based on merit alone, William Nylander should have been with the Leafs before Christmas. He’s having a historically amazing season in the AHL and would have instantly become the Leafs second or third best player. That’s where the patience comes in. Do you call him up, burn a year of ELC and have him around a losing team? What about the possibility that while he looks ready, maybe he’s not actually there yet?
“I’ve seen this over the years where a player will go to the minors and play extremely well, you’ll bring him right up but he might not be mentally prepared for the pressures that come with that.”
We all watch Nylander with the Marlies and see how dominant he is, and recognize that the talent level is through the roof, but Lou’s point is right; we can’t possibly know how he will react after being called up. We’d like to assume the transition would be seamless but in the case of this team, it’s likely better to err on the side of caution. The team is bottoming out and while it would be nice to get their franchise cornerstone a taste of the NHL, it makes far more sense to wait “too long” than it does to risk making the move too early.
“Even when you get a player to 100% you always wait a little longer”
Lou also touched on the idea of waiting when it comes to Nylander’s health. He is expected back in the lineup this weekend after sustaining a concussion during the opening game of the World Juniors about one month ago. Lamoriello implied that Nylander has been ready and wanting to play but that the organization has felt that they’d be better off to wait. The team recognizes the importance of Nylander being fully healthy going forward and know that there is absolutely no need whatsoever to take a risk of any kind.
“No I don’t think it’s (the plan for Nylander’s season) has been altered.The plan was exactly the way it’s been”
Even with the injury that has forced him to sit out a month, Lou insists that nothing has changed in terms of their plan for Nylander. It’s been speculated that he would have been up with the Leafs by now or that the original plan to get him NHL time this season has been scrapped. Lamoriello made it clear that that is not true and that not only has the plan remained the same but that we are almost certain to see Nylander and others make their NHL debuts this season.
“I’m sure you’ll see William Nylander like you’ll see a few other players (in the NHL this season)”
Probably the most interesting part of the interview was when Lou was asked about the potential of Nylander playing in the NHL this season. He made it clear that he expects the young Swede, as well as a few of his Marlies teammates to be with the Leafs even if it means the AHL team has to take a step back. The plan is for the development of the future and that will not come at the expense of any Marlie playoff run. That being said the organization will likely base the call-ups around keeping players eligible for the AHL playoffs, not to mention the fact that the Marlies are so good that the loss of two or three players won’t knock them very far down the standings.
So who are the “few other players” that Lou mentioned? If I had to guess, I would assume we’ll get a glimpse of Brendan Leipsic, Nikita Soshnikov and possibly Zach Hyman sometime after the trade deadline. We all know there are going to be some bodies moved out in the next month, and while there is the possibility that the team takes back dead weight like they did last year with Zach Sill, Lou made it sound like there will be roster spots that will be filled by current Marlies.
Leipsic looks ready. He has been great in the AHL for two years now and has a skill set that would look awfully nice on the third line of a good team. Soshnikov (or ‘Sosh‘ as he’s affectionately called by the leaders of his fan base here at TLN) has been very good for the Marlies since coming over from the KHL. He likely has a long future with the Leafs and it might be a good idea to get him a taste of the NHL this season with an eye towards next to ensure that he doesn’t long for the better payday and head back to Russia. Hyman, on the other hand, is likely more of an organizational depth guy going forward and his call up would serve as a fourth line filler that won’t have his growth stunted by a lack of playing time.
I know, I can hear you, “What about Connor Brown?” Brown has been great in his Marlies career but he has missed the vast majority of the year with injury and would likely benefit from staying in the AHL and playing big minutes to make up for lost time.
What do you think about Lou’s comments about Nylander and the future? And who would you like to see get a call-up? Let us know in the comments below.