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What to expect from Cody Ceci this summer

Let’s get the obvious joke out of the way first, and answer the post title with “not much.” Good we’ve covered that off. It’s not going to stop the hilarious replies on social media, but we’ve officially acknowledged you and we can move on.

The reality of the year for Cody Ceci is that is was always doomed to failure. He was the necessary return for the Leafs unloading the Nikita Zaitsev contract and at best people accepted him as a necessity of that. Of course Ceci didn’t win any new fans when Mike Babcock insisted on using him on the top pairing with Morgan Rielly and played him in situations beyond his ability with a partner who didn’t really give him much defensive zone support.

Under Keefe is was a different story for Ceci, and playing roles and situations more fitting of his abilities with partners that made sense for him resulted in a bit of a rebound. And now heading into the playoffs were the defensive defenseman legend takes shape, perhaps we can now expect more from Ceci. I’m kidding, this is a run out the clock situation on an overpaid defenseman who is a decent penalty killer/bottom pairing defender.

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By the numbers

Ceci falls on the more physical side of the Leafs, and definitely on the lower end of the offensive producers. As his utilization changed over the course of the year, we saw Ceci’s expected goals numbers improve.

While reducing the ice time for Ceci has been helpful, perhaps equally helpful is putting Ceci on the ice against less skilled players. Ceci has shown that he can be a perfectly decent placeholder against the 3rd and 4th line. That combined with the fact that he is a competent penalty killer should land Ceci on the bottom pairing throughout the play-in/playoffs even if there are more appealing options like Liljegren or Sandin that we may want to see more.

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What we’ve seen so far

Ugh. There are few things I want to rehash less than year that was Cody Ceci according to my eyes. What are we going to talk about? Basically what we’ve seen is numerous misread plays and failures to gain control the puck long enough to safely move it up the ice.

Ceci has shown that he can fill the void of the low defender on the penalty kill, effectively blocking shots and assisting in controlling rebounds. When Ceci can ice the puck without repercussions he’s a lot more tolerable.

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How will he do against Columbus?

Columbus isn’t exactly an offensive juggernaut so he’s not going to be dealing with an overwhelming arsenal lining up against him.

In the two games Ceci played against Columbus this season, he averaged over 19 minutes of ice time at even strength, and was paired with Morgan Rielly. He had a negative expected goal differential in both games, but wasn’t on the ice for an even strength goal against in either game. So yeah, it could be worse.

Playoff Expectations

Like I mentioned above, the playoffs are the defensive defenseman’s time to shine. Ceci isn’t likely to play a big role with the Leafs, and given that the Leafs will be starting with a completely healthy blueline, there is a possibility that Ceci might be platooning with some of the other Leafs defensemen. Rielly, Muzzin, Dermott, Barrie, and Holl will likely be locks for the top five defensive slots, which leaves Ceci either just ahead of or behind Sandin, Liljegren, Marincin or Rosen in the depth chart. Essentially Ceci appears to be in a training camp battle and it will be interesting to see what Keefe does now that he has a few weeks to implement the system and lineup he wants.

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Still, I’d expect that Ceci will play and perhaps the fact that the future of the Leafs blueline will be looking for their shot he’ll feel compelled to up his game. Of course we can spin towards positive narrative all we want, but there’s still the small issue of when Ceci hits the ice, and if it doesn’t go great early he could find himself spending the summer in the press box.