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Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski - USA Today

Finding some positives in the Leafs brief return to play

What a weird week it was. We got the briefest taste of meaningful hockey. It was playoff shareware. And going beyond the qualifying round would have been nice, but honestly when we look back on a season that included a coaching change, numerous injuries, a loss to their own employee serving as an Emergency Backup Goaltender, it’s not hard to see why this was over before it began, and why moving on from numerous players on this roster now seems like the smart decision for the Leafs.

Anyways, there were a few positive takeaways from that series that we should want to cling to in the coming months. Let’s look at some of them now.

1. This is unquestionably Auston Matthews’ team

Matthews played with the greatest sense of urgency we’ve seen from him at any point in his career. When the Leafs were down, Matthews pushed harder, wanted the puck, and put the team on his back. In many ways this is a continuation of the regular season when Matthews had his career best goal totals, and helped the Leafs fight their way back into the playoffs, but the Columbus series put an explanation point on it.

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2. Kerfoot seems like he’ll be a decent third line center

Kerfoot at times seemed to be underwhelming throughout the year, and honestly he looked better on the wing towards the end of the year. Being tied in closely to Barrie and the increasingly unpopular Kadri trade didn’t do him any favours, but a solid showing against Columbus looks to make him a solid option for next season for the Leafs too.

3. Morgan Rielly is a damned workhorse

Having to lug Cody Ceci around for the entire series wasn’t fair. Having to step up even more once Jake Muzzin was injured was an uphill battle the Leafs struggled to overcome. Rielly having no one but Barrie, Dermott, Holl, Marincin, and Ceci to work with was painful, yet somehow Rielly seemed to be everywhere on the ice at the same time. With Barrie be on the way out, it seems that Rielly will rightfully resume his power play quarterback responsibilities next season, and while some may be ready to move on from Rielly, Morgan’s certainly shown that he is a strong asset for the Leafs even if his defensive game leaves a lot to be desired.

4. Re-signing Jake Muzzin was a good call

Looking past Muzzin’s increasingly worrisome injury situation, which we can hope is just a run of bad luck, but with 30 year olds it is likely to continue, but we’re looking past that.

Muzzin is the Leafs entire defense when it comes to life south of their own blueline. With promising up and comers like Sandin and Liljegren needing development, having a steady hand like Muzzin around to partner with them will be important. Almost as important as finding a few options beyond Muzzin so when he disappears from the lineup it’s not forfeiting time.

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5. Nick Robertson is going to be a star

Maybe not a star next season, but he certainly will be able to stay in the Leafs top nine. He doesn’t look out of place against NHL competition, and especially clicked with Kerfoot who needed a winger to develop chemistry with. When you also consider the Leafs need for affordable options in the lineup, Robertson is an absolute godsend.

6. Spezza is exactly what the Leafs need

Admittedly through the first three games of the Columbus series I didn’t notice Spezza aside from when he went to grab Nick Robertson’s first goal puck (which is also wonderful.) Though in Game Four when the Leafs needed to show that this series mattered, Spezza was the player who stepped up first, and he showed that level of caring the rest of the way through the series.

Unfortunately Spezza isn’t Spezza of a few years ago, and all that effort isn’t going to translate on the score sheet like it used to, but that the Leafs can use those intangibles, as long as those intangibles continue to come at a bargain basement price. The fact that Spezza can line up at center in a pinch doesn’t hurt either.

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So there you have it. It wasn’t entirely bad. And now there’s also a 12.5% chance of winning the draft lottery to look forward to. The qualifying round was bad, but it wasn’t completely bad. There are some things worth looking forward to with the Leafs, even if we don’t get to enjoy them until December.