Coming out of the break: The February Leafs Player Power Rankings
By Jon Steitzer1 month ago
Once again it’s time to for the Leafs Player Power Rankings. This month I won’t muddy the waters by including an overall grade on how they’ve fared throughout the season in addition to where they are sitting for the season as the monthly ranking alongside the midterm grade seemed too much for our Twitter mentions.
This month we’ll go with the straightforward 1-20, but with the notable caveat of Auston Matthews missing five games in that window and with the notation of the rankings being written on Friday before the back-to-backs against the Blue Jackets. No recency bias this time, let’s do this.
1. William Nylander (steady at #1)
It’s a tough call on who to go with as the number one when three players are tied for the point lead since the last time I did these rankings, but Willy stands out because of his additional responsibilities. With Matthews out, Nylander has had to take ownership of the second line and help keep the Leafs competitive while not having Tavares or Matthews to work with. His production might have fallen off in those games, but he’s made Kerfoot and Holmberg second lines viable and that’s not an easy feat.
2. Mitch Marner (steady at #2)
Going to go real boring with the rankings and keep Marner in the second spot as well. The fact that he was the team’s All-Star gave him some consideration for the top spot and the fact that he represented the Leafs well from what the stat line tells me is nice too.
3. John Tavares (up from 7th)
Tavares being up from 7th is a bit of a surprise because I can’t remember why he was so low. I think it was one of those things attributed to the Leafs being a really good team and it takes getting down to around 16th or 17th on this list before raising any actual criticisms of players.
It’s kinda interesting that Tavares has been more about the assists of late, rather than being a goal scorer, and Tavares finding some chemistry with Calle Jarnkrok is interesting. I’m a little surprised that Keefe has split them up in Matthews’s absence as Bunting/Tavares has never really been a thing.
4. Timothy Liljegren (up from 9th)
Okay so maybe having Liljegren at 4th is a bit of a stretch, but on my highly contested list I’m making the call to give Liljegren the recognition he deserves. He’s taken on a lot tougher assignments while Brodie was out, and he’s also finding more of his offense of late. Liljegren really has the potential to be a top pairing defensemen in this league and he’s not wasting any opportunities with it.
5. Auston Matthews (down from 3rd)
Even when Auston misses a number of games he’s still tied for the team lead in goals since the last time we did this. He actually had six goals in seven games and that would be a wonderful pace for him to come back to. His four straight seasons of 40+ goals may be in jeopardy this year, but he’ll still easily hit the 30 goal mark that he has managed to reach every single season of his career no matter how many games he plays.
6. Calle Jarnkrok (up from 17th)
Last month the Calle Jarnkrok second line experience was just beginning to take flight and now we’ve seen that it can be a positive thing. Jarnkrok absolutely looks like a fit next to Tavares and he adds a ton of defensive zone responsibility to the line as well, making them much more of an all situations unit. While there will be plenty of talk about how the Leafs still need a second line left winger heading into the trade deadline, that newly acquired player might be more of an offensive catalyst for playing down in their lineup and on the second powerplay unit because 5v5, Jarnkrok is looking good.
7. Mark Giordano (up from 10th)
If you look from the beginning of the season up to now, Mark Giordano has been the Leafs most consistent defenseman. There might have been a couple of bad games over that time, and the Ottawa game before the break was definitely one of those, but considering expectations for Giordano that’s pretty amazing.
There’s a lot of talk about Giordano getting some rest down the stretch and load managing him a little, and while that might be something to explore in the final days of the regular season in April, it’s likely the All-Star break has refreshed him enough that we’ll see him at his best in February.
8. Justin Holl (down from 6th)
We’ll file this under stuff that people really don’t want to hear about, but Justin Holl has not only been pretty good this year but along with Brodie and Liljegren gives the Leafs a pretty strong right side of their blueline.
Holl has been willing to hit and has found a groove playing with Giordano. The only time Holl seems to stand out as bad is when he’s next to Rielly or I guess to a lesser extent with Sandin. If he sticks with either Brodie or Giordano, he’s a great option for the Leafs this season.
9. Michael Bunting (down from 4th)
Bunting’s production has dropped off a little of late and that’s not really a surprise when he is so closely linked to Auston Matthews. The nice thing about when Bunting isn’t producing, he’s still a sour pain in the ass to play against, and he’s been doing that well. He’s not really a fit with Tavares, as I mentioned earlier, but he could be a nice support to Nylander on the second line and maybe we’ll see that before Auston returns.
10. Ilya Samsonov (up from 16th)
The last couple of games heading into the break were rough for Samsonov. The unexpected start against the Senators where he was unfortunately lit up, and the following game against the Bruins that wasn’t as bad the Sens game but certainly underlined the importance of having a tandem going.
Before those rough starts, Samsonov was having a pretty nice little January, and now that he’s rested and excited to play, we’ll see what version of Samsonov we get down the stretch.
11. Pontus Holmberg (up from 19th)
Poor Pontus Holmberg. His most memorable moments of the last month are probably the penalties he took when he was thrown in over his head on the Leafs second line right after Matthews went down with his injury. The lesson was learned that Holmberg isn’t ready for second line center duties, thankfully that’s not generally required, but it was an acknowledgement that Holmberg can be used in a bigger role and maybe we’ll see him as a third line option more frequently, or perhaps we’ll see him deployed in a new way in the post trade deadline world where you’d assume the Leafs are assessing some new found depth.
12. Rasmus Sandin (up from 13th)
Sandin continues to be a bit of a hitting machine on the backend and while this might not be a popular opinion or the comparison people like, but Sandin reminds me a bit of Dion Phaneuf. He chases the big hit, and can provide some solid offense, but there are still going to be “WTF?” moments almost every game with him. When you aren’t relying on a Phaneuf type as a top pairing guy it’s a lot easier to deal with and Sandin is still young enough that some responsibility can be added to his game as well potentially moving him up in the lineup.
13. Pierre Engvall (up from 15th)
Engvall is a pretty steady presence in clogging up the neutral zone. He might not do anything that has you overly excited and his offense hasn’t been there of late, but Engvall has played pretty darn well. There hasn’t been much physical play from him after that brief outburst against the Kings and Sean Durzi, but that remains a skillset the Leafs need to try to access prior to the playoffs, as long as it doesn’t come at the expense of the other things he’s doing right.
14. Conor Timmins (down from 8th)
Okay, so Conor Timmins has come down to earth, but that’s okay. We’ve learned that he doesn’t have any business in the top four (yet), and we’ve learned there is a drop off of what can be expected from him with a less experienced partner like Sandin beside him, but that’s more the reality of being a youngish defenseman in the NHL.
Timmins is a great bottom pairing option that can come in when Toronto wants more offense from the blueline, but it shouldn’t be viewed as the wrong decision to hold him out of the lineup when Toronto has a healthy top six group either. He’s going to grow into an every night role and with Timmins signed for $1.1M AAV for the next two years, it’s great that Toronto is going to give him his chance to shine.
15. Morgan Rielly (down from 14th)
In general we are all a little too harsh when it comes to criticizing Morgan Rielly. There’s no point to expecting much from him defensively and we’ve known that for a few years. When he’s on his game he’s a great offensive catalyst from the blueline, and while he’s been tough to watch defensively, especially with TJ Brodie out so much lately, the biggest concern around Rielly is how his offense has dried up over the past couple months.
Rielly picking up a goal and getting that monkey off his back should mean Morgan is starting with a clean slate coming out of the All-Star break and while his defense is still going to make you furious, let’s hope he’s back to doing the right things at the other end of the ice.
16. David Kampf (down from 11th)
I think it’s now time to start talking about how David Kampf hasn’t been as good as he used to be. He’s largely required Pierre Engvall to be on his line to be successful this year, and his penalty killing and ability against tougher competition has fallen off.
Not that it’s the reason you have Kampf around, but his offense has also disappeared and the fact that the entire bottom six is experiencing that issue means some things need to be reassessed with Kampf.
Ideally heading into the playoffs it would be nice to see Kampf as a fourth line center, and maybe that looks like a line with Engvall and Holmberg, which is probably a unit that closely mirrors what worked for Kampf last year.
17. Joey Anderson (not ranked)
Anderson has finally made his case to be with the Leafs in the last recall. He has brought some offense to the bottom six, after I just complained about its absence in the Kampf writeup, he’s drawing penalties, and he’s dirt cheap.
There has been a lot of patience required both from the Leafs and Anderson on getting him to this point, but if Anderson can maintain a 4th line/13th forward type role going forward the Leafs would be very happy heading into the playoffs, as Anderson is a bit of a Bunting light.
18. Alex Kerfoot (steady at 18)
Kerfoot has the trust of Sheldon Keefe and many people will ask why. The reason is when you look at his underlying defensive numbers, Kerfoot is a low risk option and you can throw him on the ice and most of the time nothing bad will happen (insert a contradictory reference to the playoffs here), but that often comes at the cost of nothing good happening either.
Kerfoot was bottoming out as a 4th line winger and it might have been nearing a potential healthy scratch status before the Matthews injury and as a result we’re now seeing Kerfoot used as the second line center. The Swiss Army Knife rides again, whether you like it or not.
19. Zach Aston-Reese (up from 20th)
Aston-Reese as a fourth line winger who throws his body around is doing everything you’d expect from a player in that role. The thing is that people always expected Zach Aston-Reese to make a strong case for being better than that and pushing for a third line spot and making his contract look like a bargain. He hasn’t really done that, but there’s always been an expectation that his strongest selling point will come in the post season.
20. Bobby McMann (not ranked)
McMann, Hunt, Benn, and Simmonds have all been in and out of the lineup. TJ Brodie has only played a couple of games, and Matt Murray is hurt again. Picking the 20th player on this list is really just a formality to keep the list consistently at 20.
McMann gets the spot because despite his lack of points, he was looking comfortable on the Leafs third line and providing a lot of energy in his role. The trade deadline might push McMann down the depth chart too far to have another go at the Leafs this season, but he’s made a strong case for a potential fourth line wing role to start 2023-24.
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