Now that the offseason can officially be pronounced dead (barring an Erik Karlsson trade or a William Nylander extension), we can start looking at the roster, and what we can expect from the roster in the 2018-19 season. This might be a hot take to some, but the Leafs made some big improvements this offseason, particularly with the addition of John Tavares, so we can certainly expect this team to make strides this season, but it might not go as expected.
Taking from our buddies at Oilers Nation, over the next little while, I’m going to be looking at the Leafs roster, and seeing what the best and worst case scenarios are for all of the Leafs. Of course, this will be assuming that these players don’t get injured at all this season, and that they won’t get traded, but I’m going to try and make realistic ceilings and floors for what we can expect from the Leafs this season.
Today, we’ll be looking at the bottom six wingers, or at the very least, the bottom six wingers that are a guaranteed lock for opening day.
Ceiling: After a 20 goal rookie season, Connor Brown took a step back offensively with 14 goals and 28 points, and at age 24, that might be more what to expect from Brown in his career, especially with his career shooting percentage sitting at a mighty high 13%.
Now, perhaps he could jump back to his rookie season, especially considering how often he bounced around the lineup last season. He was the only player to play on all four lines, with a good chunk of it on the fourth line. However, he also played a decent portion of the season on the third line, and didn’t really contribute offensively, despite playing with van Riemsdyk’s 36 goal season.
It’s reasonable to say that Brown is more of a defensive forward with some finishing ability to be able to contribute offensively. An appropriate ceiling for him this season would probably be to say 15 goals and 30 points, although that’s assuming that he slots in on the third line. But, his lineup spot isn’t guaranteed for the whole season.
Floor: And that’s where we get to his floor. While I’d say his production won’t fluctuate too much (he’s probably a 10-15 goal scorer and 25-30 point getter barring injury or bad luck), his floor more falls under whether or not he’s a consistent draw into the lineup.
Considering that on top of Kapanen and Johnsson, who (spoiler alert) are the other guaranteed bottom six wingers, he also has Josh Leivo, Tyler Ennis, and Josh Jooris right behind him. His play falters, and he’s probably in the press box (although Babcock loves him, so who knows). And that’s just the NHL players. Perhaps a Carl Grundstrom or a Tervor Moore impress out of camp, and suddenly they’re competing for a bottom six spot as well.
I’d say that Brown’s floor might be a situation where he might not be terrible, but he might not stand out, and suddenly, four players are better than him and in the lineup instead. I doubt it happens, but it’s possible.
Ceiling: After struggling to crack the Leafs for the last couple seasons, Kapanen squeezed into the lineup in late January when Babcock had a philosophical awakening and realized that he shouldn’t put Matt Martin in the lineup every game. In 38 games, he scored 7 goals and had 9 points total.
Depending on where he slots in the lineup, Kapanen has a chance to really boost those numbers next season. If he impresses Babcock enough to give him a spot on the third line with Kadri, we’ll probably see a lot more than 7 goals, especially in a full season, and with a bit more power play time (hopefully).
I’d say it wouldn’t be completely unrealistic to say that Kapanen ends up with a 20 goal, 35 point season, assuming that he gets in the top nine and the power play. He could also get a much bigger role on the penalty kill and be a much more defensively responsible forward.
Floor: Even though his career high is nine points, I would be shocked if he falls that low again. Keep in mind that so far, his NHL career has consisted of playing with Martin and Ben Smith/Brian Boyle in 2016-17 (who combined for 16 points with the Leafs that season), and Leo Komarov, Dominic Moore, Tomas Plekanec, and Andreas Johnsson (who combined for 23 points with the Leafs that season, or in Komaorv’s case, six points away from Kadri and Marleau).
No wonder the poor guy only has two assists in his career. Whether he plays with Lindholm, Ennis, Jooris, or Leivo, those are all arguably upgrades over who Kapanen has played with so far (excluding Johnsson). That alone should improve his numbers. Also, I don’t really see a scenario where he doesn’t end up on the power play this season, so that should also help.
Even if he plays a diminished fourth line role, I’d say Kapanen would be a safe bet for 10-15 goals and 25-30 points at the least.
Ceiling: Johnsson is a very interesting case. He’s already a lock in the lineup, even though he’s only played nine games so far in his young career. Despite playing on the fourth line, Johnsson ended up with a modest two goals and three points in those nine games.
He might already be looking at a spot on the third line, especially with the departure of James van Riemsdyk leaving a vacancy in the top nine for a left winger. Combine that with his excellent defensive abilities, and he’d be an appropriate fit for the shutdown line with Kadri.
However, it’s hard to get a grasp on a point total for Johnsson, mostly due to the small sample size that is his career thus far. His ceiling could be 30 points, or it could be 60 points, it’s hard to tell with only nine games. So, I’ll set his ceiling right now as securing a lineup spot right out of camp, and having a good rookie season.
Floor: But, who’s to say that he gets a secured lineup spot. While it’s likely (Babcock played him over Komarov in the playoffs, which says a lot), perhaps he ends up not getting a spot right out of camp, like Kapanen last season. One thing that Johnsson has over Kapanen last season is the fact that Johnsson isn’t waiver exempt, so it’s highly unlikely he plays in the AHL.
So, I’d say that Johnsson’s floor is looking at something like him being more of an injury replacement in the lineup, and putting up 10-20 points in however many games he gets in.