2024-25 will show what Timothy Liljegren can do on a non-Keefe coached team

Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
1 month ago
At the start of the 2016-17 season, Timothy Liljegren’s name was at the top of most draft lists, neck, and neck with “can’t miss” prospect Nolan Patrick, and no one was even considered some random Junior-A player named Cale Makar as the best defenceman in the draft. Illness changed a lot for Timothy Liljegren, and it seemed the Leafs had lucked out with a one-time surefire top of the draft pick slid down to the Leafs at 17th overall. Looking back at that draft it can only be described as chaos. Liljegren is still one of the better finds but right from his arrival in North America he’s played under one coach (save for a couple of demotions) and that coach has been Sheldon Keefe.
Timothy Liljegren has always looked fine and on the cusp of delivering more during his time in Toronto both on the Marlies and with the Maple Leafs and it has seemed that Sheldon Keefe has always been quick to block those next steps. It is one of the smaller criticisms that come up with Keefe but there never seemed to be much trust in Liljegren. And last season I admit, I started to understand where Sheldon was coming from.
Timothy Liljegren looked very much at home as a third pairing defenceman for the Leafs when used in that role and as he was moved up to the second pairing or even put in some work alongside Morgan Rielly, Liljegren looked like he was ready to deliver on the next step of his career path, but then came setbacks. In the first quarter of the season, it looked like Liljegren would be one of the Leafs’ top defencemen then he missed significant time after being injured by Brad Marchand. When he came back into the lineup any attempt to use him at the level, he was previously playing at failed. He had to be reset.
Late-season injuries seemed to require additional resets of Liljegren and every time he left the lineup, he seemed to need a bottom-pairing assignment to get back up to speed. The guy lacks an autosave feature.
Liljegren has a safety net though and it is his right-handed shot. As long as these defencemen are in short supply around the NHL someone will always give the Timothy Liljegrens and Conor Timmins’ of the world another shot.
There is a lot to like about Timothy Liljegren’s game. He has decent enough vision, moves the puck well, and can skate out of trouble. As much as you can say anything positive about the Leafs’ powerplay last season, Liljegren looked capable in becoming the PP2 guy after John Klingberg was shut down. He’s a decent offensive defenceman you don’t hate against bottom six forwards, he’s just not the defensive option the Leafs need.
Liljegren would be the Leafs’ 4D last season and while the shot attempts against makes things look worse, he was very much was middle of the road in that role. That’s something should provide some optimism for him being a strong bottom pairing option in 2024-25 or if something clicks under Craig Berube, Liljegren can be an affordable 4D for the Leafs and that is something they could desperately use.
When it came to defensive partners last season there is a bit of a built-in excuse for Liljegren. He was spread around. A lot. Despite Mark Giordano largely being out of service last season, Giordano was Liljegren’s most frequent partner. Only two minutes behind Giordano was Jake McCabe and this really shows how much partners moved around in 2023-24 because this wasn’t a memorable duo at all. Liljegren also saw 181 minutes with TJ Brodie and 118 minutes with Morgan Rielly. After the arrival of Joel Edmundson, Liljegren saw a ton of time with him, and this unfortunate duo was what we frequently saw in the playoffs.
It was really just Simon Benoit that Liljegren didn’t see significant time with and Liljegren’s best hockey likely came alongside Jake McCabe, which really was this duo connecting during the Leafs November run and both of them benefiting from John Klingberg leaving the lineup.
Another thing about Liljegren is that he gets the assignment. He’s not a defensive defenceman but he gets the assignment. He blocks shots, he finishes his hits even if they aren’t crippling, and he doesn’t get in his goaltender’s way. He is a roamer and has the decision-making process that will almost certainly get called out in the comment section on this site or Facebook, but he shows promise and could easily work with a coach who has spent the past few seasons with Torey Krug and Justin Faulk.
Not seeing Sheldon Keefe behind the bench will be a first for Liljegren in North America. Well…not a first as Liljegren was sent down a couple of times, but ultimately Keefe was the guy controlling his icetime and where and when he played. Berube is a fresh start and that may be a welcome thing for Timothy Liljegren.
Liljegren is also without a contract and if I had to guess, the Maple Leafs will take advantage of his arbitration eligibility to keep Liljegren cheap and light on term. The Leafs wouldn’t be wise to further thin out the right side of their blueline and while they wish to be more physically imposing, they will still need someone like Liljegren to move the puck up ice.
Liljegren is far from perfect, but he still has promise. Perhaps with a consistent partner and a deployment that suits his skill set, Liljegren can become the defenceman he was hyped to be back in 2016.
Data sourced from Natural Stat Trick

Check out these posts...