Happy NHL training camp eve. Well, it’s training camp eve if the big excitement of training camp was players reporting, weighing in, and putting their shit in their lockers. Maybe tomorrow is more of the true training camp eve, or maybe we just need to acknowledge that training camp boxing day is the main event, and Thursday when everyone is on the ice is when the fun starts. It’s been months since we’ve been able to complain about line combinations and they’ll be coming in hot soon enough.
With one day to go, I’ve put together a question of 30 of the camp attendees, or at least 30 players who you’d expect to see at training camp.
Matthews: How is that wrist doing?
It seems like to some degree the Leafs will be living and dying by the status of Matthews’ wrist this year and if Auston arrives in peak health, ready to go that will certainly be a bonus. There’s been a lot of talk about whether or not he can go for 70 goals this year. Personally, I’m content to see him confirm that 50 is automatic for him and that he can share the wealth to get the point totals higher this year.
Tavares: Who is the best fit for him?
Will Tavares get Nylander again this year, will the Leafs go with the Islanders model of hoping that Tavares can elevate lesser linemates, or will this year be about optimizing Tavares and realizing Matthews will be just fine and do we see Marner spend more time with Tavares.
Nylander: Can he play the power-forward style of game he demonstrated during the World Hockey Championship?
The clips of Nylander using his size to lean on opponents and drive the puck to the net were very encouraging. That being said, the World Championships aren’t exactly where the best players show up to try hard, especially in a year when Russia didn’t get an invite. After seeing Marner take a step forward in his physical play in 2021-22, it would be nice to see the same from Nylander in 2022-23.
Marner: Is he better off setting up someone other than Auston?
Like the Tavares question above the obvious question is about whether Marner with Tavares makes sense, but there is also something to be said about whether Marner can help jump start Nick Robertson’s NHL career as well. As much as Bunting-Matthews-Marner seems like a lock to start training camp, Keefe has had a lot of time this summer to dream up some different scenarios for Mitch.
Bunting: Will he bring the same edge now that he’s emerging as a top six player?
To be honest I don’t really doubt that Bunting is going to deliver in the same fashion we’ve seen him deliver. Thinking of a question around Bunting is a stretch. Maybe the biggest question is what would it take for Bunting to sign with the Leafs before the season starts and he drives his price up?
Kerfoot: Can he make a case for being kept around?
There are plenty of reasons to want Kerfoot to stay. He might have been a drain on the second line, but he’s still a 50 point guy who can kill penalties and might be needed at center this year. His contract obviously makes things difficult, but can he show his value in camp and force the Leafs to look elsewhere for cap relief.
Engvall: Is he healthy enough to start the season?
Engvall talked a big game with saying he could hit 20 goals this year and a case can be made for him as a second line winger or fourth line center in addition to his likely landing spot on the third line. Not having Engvall for camp is a loss because he’s an important piece of the puzzle and not knowing where he’ll fit could hurt even more than the tough cap decision the Leafs might be able to put off because of his injury.
Jarnkrok: Did the Leafs sign Nashville Jarnkrok or Seattle Jarnkrok?
There is plenty of good reason to believe that Jarnkrok still knows what he’s doing and a statistical drop off from playing on an expansion team isn’t alarming. A lot of the same questions about where he fits mirror those for Engvall and Kerfoot.
Robertson: Can he score against NHL goaltenders?
Nick Robertson has impressed in junior, the AHL, in rookie tournaments, and pretty much any situation other than playing in the NHL. He might need a chance to play with some bonafide top six talent to do that and with that comes the realization that Robertson won’t be a driver, but still has the potential to be a top notch passenger, assuming he can finally get the puck past a top goaltender.
Kampf: Should be the third line center or center a really great fourth line?
It’s easy to just say he was the third line center last year and he will be again this year, but the Leafs have a ton of options. The role for Kampf doesn’t really need to change nor does his icetime, but it will be interesting to see what the Leafs can put together with what looks like an eclectic group of bottom six talent.
Aston-Reese: Is he better than the field?
Yes, he probably is.
Gaudette: How does he look at center?
It’s going to be a tough go for Gaudette making his case on the Leafs roster with the amount of competition in the bottom six, but the one area would he could have a unique opportunity is if he can establish himself as the fourth line center. Do the Leafs see something in Gaudette similar to what they saw in Kampf?
Simmonds: Is this it?
The quick answer is yes, there is a lot of competition for his role and age can make things difficult. Where things are complicated is whether or not the Leafs are going to cut a strong leader lose for a marginal difference in talent between Simmonds and one of his competitors. Intangibles could put him over the top.
Aube-Kubel: What did the Leafs see in him?
Well…they definitely saw a Stanley Cup win, and that’s not nothing, even for a depth participant. Having someone who was just at the top around the Leafs this year could be a benefit. There is also the fact that NAK has some speed to go with his physical play. If he fits with the group at all, Aube-Kubel will be a worthwhile move.
Anderson: Can he clear waivers?
Never say never, but Anderson likely has to make the Leafs or he’ll be playing elsewhere. I guess if Anderson can’t establish himself ahead of Gaudette, Simmonds, or Aube-Kubel at this point in his career losing Joey to waivers isn’t the loss it’s been made out to be, but at one time he did seem like a promising prospect.
Holmberg: How good is he?
I want to believe very good. I’m not sure I’m where some people are at thinking he could be a second line wing option, but Holmberg does look like he could be an early callup who won’t make it easy for the Leafs to send him back down. I think he’ll be a tough player to cut, but not requiring waivers will force the Leafs to take their time with him even if he looks good.
Clifford: Is he more than a Marlie at this point?
It’s hard to see how Clifford is anything other than the Rich Clune replacement at this point, but last season could have been a wake up call that Kyle needed to put in some extra work this summer and we’ll see if he wants to make a final push.
Yep, he’s back. Yep, people are still angry about Marchment, but when it comes to Malgin it is interesting to see where he could potentially fit, and it will be interesting to see if there really was something to his World Championship performance and strong Swiss League numbers.
Rielly: Is he going to see tough defensive minutes?
The Leafs have better defensive options than they’ve had in recent years. Muzzin, Brodie and GIordano can all do some heavy lifting in their own zone, Liljegren has shown some promise, as has Sandin, and Holl isn’t nothing. Do the Leafs look to be more selective about when Rielly is sent out on the ice now and try to get him to avoid tough defensive situations.
Muzzin: Is he healthy?
If Muzzin isn’t ready to start the year he’s the Leafs pathway to cap compliance. If Muzzin is healthy and ready to go he will make the Leafs the best version of their team. It will be a big if that he can stay healthy, but we’ll take baby steps and hope that he’s either 100% or can provide some cap relief to start the year.
Giordano: How much is age a factor?
Giordano is willing to be paid like an old guy, but he hasn’t really hit a wall yet. It will be interesting to see if there was any drop off since we saw him last.
Liljegren: Will he get more opportunities to start the year?
Timothy did everything right last year and certainly took a team friendly deal. Now it is up to the Leafs to do right by Liljegren and put him in situations that can show what he can do.
Sandin: Will he report?
I would blame him if he didn’t report, but it’s probably in Sandin’s best interest if he did. We’ll find out soon enough if he’ll show up.
Holl: Why is he still here?
The right shot, decent penalty killing, and the desire for depth. As much as people want to move on from Holl, if the Leafs can keep him they are better off.
Brodie: Who will he make better?
It’s going to be a lottery for Rielly, Giordano, Muzzin, and Sandin to see who gets to play with Brodie. Odds are it’s still Rielly as Brodie can keep him on the ice in a lot more challenging situations.
Mete: Can the Leafs fix him?
It’s wishful thinking that Toronto can help Mete reach his full potential, but definitely worth a try. Even if he doesn’t become an NHL regular, having Mete as a puck moving depth option is a plus.
Benn: 7th D or Marlie
It seems like this is strictly a dollars question, and if Toronto is able to carry a spare player it seems like Jordie Benn is the best option.
Murray: Is he 100%
If he’s not, the Leafs are going to be in tough. Matt Murray when he’s been healthy represents an upgrade over Jack Campbell, and given that neither Campbell or Murray handle a full starters load but rather the 1A of a tandem’s load, Murray just needs to show up to start and be managed carefully throughout the year.
Samsonov: Can he push for the starter role?
This is more wishful thinking, and the Leafs don’t have the best track record with turning goaltenders around, but it will be interesting to see how motivated Samsonov is and if he wants to grab the starter’s job out of camp.
Källgren: Any signs of improvement?
With a high potential for Matt Murray to deal with another injury at some point there is a need for Kallgren, or Woll, or any other Leafs goaltender to be ready to step up. It seems like the depth role will be Kallgren’s to lose, and perhaps his on the job training last year will have him set up of a strong showing this year.