Timothy Liljegren is the Leafs’ 4th ranked prospect

Having been around these parts for quite a while now, Liljegren has garnered a reputation of being a more veteran player than the rest of this year’s prospect ranking cohort. However, at just 21, he’s still a young potential bright spot in this organization’s future. Liljegren joined the Leafs after having been widely projected to go somewhere in the top 3 in his draft. H e contracted mononucleosis (“mono” for short) which significantly affected his ability to perform in his draft year, and ultimately affected his draft ranking.

Toronto was happy to capitalize on his fall down the draft board, as he still remains one of the most promising players in their future plans. Let’s see how he fares in this bunch.

Rank Grade NHL Readiness
4 B 0-1 years

Position: Right Defense
6’0″ / 183 cm
Weight: 192 lbs / 87 kg
2017 round 1 #17 overall

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What kind of player is he?

Liljegren is a two-way defender that has been establishing the more defensive side of the game since joining the Toronto Marlies following his draft year.

Liljegren plays as a top defender in the AHL, responsible for all of the tough assignments at that level, and also relied on to generate offensive opportunities for the forwards.

In his time up in the NHL with the Maple Leafs, he played a very sheltered role on the bottom pairing. Despite his history with Sheldon Keefe, Liljegren’s role at the NHL level hasn’t had the opportunity yet to grow into that well-rounded defender just yet, but that’s the role he projects to be able to fill. The common sentiment on Liljegren is that he’s an offense-focused right shot defender, someone like John Carlson or Kevin Shattenkirk, but his real abilities should be able to see him into more of a Ryan Ellis or Dougie Hamilton role (assuming he reaches the absolute top range of his potential, which happens rarely but is certainly possible).

Liljegren’s biggest asset is his skating, which has increasingly become a critical skill for all skaters on the ice, not just the forwards, so that the defenders can actually keep up with the forwards’ on the rush and when they’re moving the puck around the zone in more complicated passing schemes than the NHL used to see. Liljegren can easily participate that from an offensive perspective — he scored 30 points in 40 AHL games this year — and he can also work to eliminate that from the defensive perspective, using his skating and an aggressive stick to break up passes or shut down a rush.

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This video form Corsi Hockey gives a great breakdown of how his skills could be seen in his short stint in the NHL:

By the numbers

As mentioned above, Liljegren managed 30 points in 40 games last year, which was good for 14th in the league in points per game among defenders with at least 10 games played in the AHL. This also put him second on the Marlies behind Joseph Duszak.

Liljegren’s skating ability allows him to shut down offensive opportunities for the other team without taking penalties, which bears itself out in the data. He ranked 197th of 270 defenders > 10, in PIMs per game. This was a common trait of the Toronto Marlies’ defense last year, as teammates Michael Kapla, Kevin Gravel, Jesper Lindgren, Calle Rosen, and Kristians Rubins fared even better on that list.

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Unfortunately, the AHL is pretty bare when it comes to data, so it’s tough to extract much valuable analysis from the numbers that are available.

For the NHL, we have a lot of data that we could use, but with just 11 NHL games played, all of it has to be taken with such a significant grain of salt that it’s not worth pulling too much of the “fancy” numbers to look at, so I’m not going to, so that I avoid drawing conclusions that are unfounded.

One thing that doesn’t require as much of a sample size to be worth looking at is usage relative to the rest of the team.

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Some things that we can glean from this table are that Liljegren played just 9-10 minutes per game, clearly showing that his stint in the NHL was meant to get his feet wet, not meant to be a meaningful role just yet. Another way we can see this is that Liljegren started 75% of his shifts on the fly, meaning that he was almost never used in a sort of “matchup” game, he was used in situations where the coach needed a body on the fly, in situations where he felt Liljegren could play without it being much of a risk.

What’s next for Liljegren?

With 8 defenders likely ahead of Liljegren on the depth chart for next year. it’s probable that he’ll be with the Marlies next year if everything is as normal. In the event that the Leafs have a kind of “taxi squad” of players that can move between the AHL and NHL without waivers, as has been bandied about, Liljegren will almost definitely be on that. In case of injury or a COVID-19 outbreak in the team, Liljegren is ready to be an NHL defender for the Leafs next season. The opportunity only needs to be created for him to be able to show that. At this point that opportunity almost certainly doesn’t exist without some of the players above him moving on or going down with injury/illness.

Otherwise, Liljegren will aim to shine with the Toronto Marlies as he did last season in order to continue his growth as a player, and wait for a better opportunity to show up.

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