Photo credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
The NHL Playoffs are only days away which means we’re about to witness the best non-tanking hockey of the year. For the Nation Network, it also means we’re launching a new playoff fantasy hockey draft at nationdrafts.com. Although I plan on spending most of my time tirelessly over-analyzing who we should draft with our two first round picks this June, I always make time to follow a few big series and inevitably watch my fantasy hockey team fall to pieces.
Here are four former Leafs that’ll be on the radar for the next two months:
James Reimer: It’s still hard to see James Reimer in another NHL jersey but it’s been one of his most productive years and it’s good to see Reimer get a shot at some more playoff hockey. In his last five starts for San Jose, Reimer has gone 4-1-0 with two shut outs. The Sharks may have thought they were getting a back-up goalie when they traded for Reimer in February but his play down the stretch will certainly give Peter DeBoer something to think about when it’s time to choose his starter this Thursday.
San Jose has the imposing task of facing off against Los Angeles in the first round so even if Martin Jones gets the first start, Reimer could very well see some time in relief.
Phil Kessel: Kessel has been instrumental to Pittsburgh’s success down the stretch notching 38 points in his final 45 games. Now that he’s settled in alongside Nick Bonino on the Penguins second line, Kessel is proving his worth on the score sheet. A little over two weeks ago Kessel set a career high with a 5 point night against the Detroit Red Wings that ultimately led to him earning a spot in the NHL’s Three Stars of the Week. After a rough start to the season, you can’t help but feel happy for Phil Kessel. Of course, the soft spoken sniper has always found himself at the center of controversy in Toronto and these playoffs will be no different.
The Leafs now own the Penguins’ first round draft pick from the Kessel trade which means the higher that Pittsburgh finishes in the post season, the lower that first round draft pick becomes.
Daniel Winnik: We all owe Daniel Winnik a standing ovation. Over the course of the past two years Winnik has been the essential piece in two trade transactions that have landed the Leafs two 2016 second-round draft picks, a 2015 fourth-round draft pick, enforcer Zach Sill, veteran nice guy Brooks Laich and prospect Connor Carrick who is already looking like a good piece of the Leafs’ future. All of this loot for a depth winger. If you need any more reason to cheer on the gritty Mississauga native, consider that he may be charged with the task of shutting down Phil Kessel’s line if Pittsburgh and Washington meet later in the playoffs.
The Western Conference is always tough but with the Kings coming off two Stanley Cups in the last four years, this will undoubtedly be Schenn’s best chance at a ring to date. Admittedly, my Nation Drafts team name is called “Can’t Bet Against Quick” so I could be a little biased in predicting success for LA.
Honourable mentions: Roman Polak (SJS), Carl Gunnarsson (STL), Nick Spaling (SJS), Mikhail Grabovski (NYI), Nikolay Kulemin (NYI), Richard Panik (CHI), David Bolland (FLA), Zach Sill (WSH), Mike Santorelli (ANA), Korbinian Holzer (ANA)