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Photo Credit: Geoff Burke / USA TODAY SPORTS

WWYDW: The forwards

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…

Left Wing:

Patrick Marleau, James van Riemsdyk, Zach Hyman, Leo Komarov, Matt Martin, Josh Leivo, Kerby Rychel

Center: 

Auston Matthews, Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak, Dominic Moore, Ben Smith, Frederik Gauthier

Right Wing:

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?

  • If it was my team?

    Marleau – Matthews – Nylander
    JVR – Boazk – Marner
    Brown – Kadri – Komarov
    Hyman – Moore – Kapanen
    Leivo, Martin as extras.

    its not what will happen, but i think it could.
    Also looking at this I might switch Kapanen & Komarov, but that would weaken the 4th line, this way all 4 lines are balanced and can be a threat.

  • jbrough7

    So if Komarov drops to the fourth line, which makes sense, then shouldn’t we flip him when he is perceived as a third line winger? Sosh can come in and do a good job in a similar role on that fourth line and do it cheaper too.

  • The Russian Rocket

    The longer I’ve thought about it, the more I believe Martin needs to stay in the lineup. We didn’t have anyone chasing Nylander, Matthews and Marner last year and I’ve come to agree with Babcock – it’s because of Martin. I’d prefer to keep the Big 3 safe than see the upgrade that Kapanen could bring to the 4th line.

    Is 82 games of Kapanen worth one of the Big 3 missing 10+ games due to injury caused by a wreckless player head-hunting?

    I think we’re good enough with Martin in. Kapanen and Leivo are extras for me.

  • As follows

    Hyman-Matthews-Nylander
    JVR-Bozak-Marner
    Marleau-Kadri-Komarov
    Martin-Moore-Brown
    Levio, Smith as extras.

    Every premier line in the NHL has two skilled guys and one grinder. Matthews and Nylander use hyman to get pucks and be a pain in the ass. Kadri, Komarov and Marleau will be a shutdown line with some skill. Martin won’t be going anywhere, and the “4th Line” will be more like a 3B with Brown and Moore on it. Babcock will use the lines with some flux, and there won’t be a definitive 4-Line system.

  • Stan Smith

    You stated that the 1st ad 3rd lines were successful. Was the 2nd line not successful as well? The scoring for the player on each line was Line 1: 72 goals, Line 2: 66 goals, Line 3: 66 goals. The 2nd line scored as many goals as the 3rd line playing against a lot tougher competition. I would argue that the Kadri’s line was more successful than Bozak’s. Your point is well taken though. Where in heck do you put Marleau on this roster? It sure doesn’t make sense to pay a guy more than $6M a year to play on the 4th line, so something has to give. It would almost make things easier if the Leafs dealt JVR, Bozak or Komarov.

  • STAN

    If I’m Lou, I trade Komorov and JvR (most likely for picks, but perhaps for a solid D-man) to make way for Leivo and Kapanen. They add speed and scoring.

    Then you’d have…

    Hyman – Matthews – Nylander
    Marleau – Bozak – Marner
    Brown – Kadri – Kapanen
    Martin – Moore – Leivo
    Rychel, Soshnokov as extras.