Earlier today, Jonas Siegel put out an article on The Athletic about who’s going to fit where, and, naturally, that led to a conversation on Leafs Twitter about how the lineup is going to look.
Last week, I asked how the Leafs should put together their blueline this season. This week, the What Would You Do Wednesday question pertains to the Leafs forwards. Who’s going to play where? Specifically, where does new addition Patrick Marleau slot in? Which fringe player is going to crack the roster and who’s going to end up on the outside looking in?
Here are Toronto’s options heading into the season…
Patrick Marleau, James van Riemsdyk, Zach Hyman, Leo Komarov, Matt Martin, Josh Leivo, Kerby Rychel
Auston Matthews, Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak, Dominic Moore, Ben Smith, Frederik Gauthier
William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Connor Brown, Kasperi Kapanen, Nikita Soshnikov, Eric Fehr
The last time we watched the Leafs play a hockey game, this is what they rolled with…
Part 1: Who plays where?
The first line, the Matthews, Hyman, Nylander trio was successful last season, as was the third line of JVR, Bozak, and Marner. It’s hard to imagine either of those trios getting broken up, especially right out of the gate, as each group is familiar with one another.
That leaves us with the second and fourth line and Patrick Marleau. We know Marleau isn’t going to be playing dumpster minutes on the fourth line. He’ll likely slide onto the second line with Nazem Kadri and Connor Brown, which would make them more offensively oriented than Kadri’s line with Leo Komarov was last season. The fourth line will then consist of Dominic Brown, bruiser Matt Martin, and Komarov, who’s been shoved down the roster.
Am I right with these combinations? Should Marleau be on the top line over Hyman? Will taking Komarov off of Kadri’s wing make the line easier to play against?
Part 2: Who are the remaining two forwards?
Kasperi Kapanen was very effective down the stretch and came up with some huge goals for the Leafs last spring. He’s a great skater and could play a top-nine role on a lot of teams that aren’t as loaded on the wings as the Leafs. He doesn’t need to go through waivers.
Nikita Soshnikov excelled defensively last season but is coming into camp under the cloud of concussion issues. He lost his spot to Kapanen last season. He doesn’t need to go through waivers.
Josh Leivo and Kerby Rychel are both skilled forwards who are stuck behind the log jam. Both would require waivers to go down to the AHL.
Ben Smith made the team last season and played as the fourth centre until the Leafs acquired Brian Boyle from Tampa Bay. Smith was much maligned by Leafs fans last year, but he can play centre and win draws, essentially making him the left-handed relief pitcher of the NHL. He would require waivers. Frederik Gauthier plays a similar game but doesn’t require waivers.
Eric Fehr is a depth player who was acquired as a cap dump from the Penguins last season. There’s an argument for having a veteran like Fehr on the roster, but his $2 million cap hit makes him almost certain to be buried in the AHL.
I assume, simply from an asset management perspective, Kapanen and Soshnikov will start the season in the AHL. They can get actual ice time down there and the Leafs would likely rather give one of their waiver-eligible forwards a chance to stick around instead. I have a feeling, right or wrong, Ben Smith will be one of the extra forwards because he’s a centre, and the final spot will be between Rychel and Leivo.
What do you think?