The Countdown: 3 Maple Leafs who need to bounce back in the new year

Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Shane Seney
2 months ago
The Toronto Maple Leafs are 17-8-6 on the season and are gearing up to take on the Ottawa Senators after the holiday break. The Leafs have been an entertaining team to watch this season, to say the least, and some more excitement should be on tap for their fans in the new year.
The Leafs have leaned on their core a tremendous amount so far through their first 31 games and there’s no doubt if they want to make a run at the President’s Trophy, they’ll need more of the same from the likes of Auston Matthews, William Nylander, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and Morgan Rielly.
As far as the supporting cast goes, here are 3 Maple Leafs who need to bounce back in the new year:

Nick Robertson

Robertson once again had a tough time making the big club out of training camp and has appeared in 20 of the Maple Leafs’ 31 games this season since being recalled. While he started like a house on fire after he made his season debut, Robertson has been severely inconsistent this year.
With three goals in 20 games, and just nine points, the Maple Leafs need Robertson to be a secondary scoring option they can rely on among the bottom six. He’s not perfectly suited for a third-line checking role, however, he’s going to need to adjust if he wants to stick around on the Leafs for the rest of the season.
Robertson hasn’t scored in his last 13 games and lately has looked out of place. The one-time top prospect is at his best when he’s generating chances off the rush, using his hockey IQ to get in spots where he can unleash his heavy wrister.  He, Max Domi and Calle Jarnkrok appear to be getting some more run from head coach Sheldon Keefe and if that’s the case they need to get back to keeping things simple and use their speed to get behind defenders and get in on the forecheck and use their ability to share the puck to help create offence.
Robertson isn’t someone who holds a ton of value on the trade market, even though he’s just 22 years old, however, if Brad Treliving makes a big splash and has to include a couple of roster players, there’s a very good chance Robertson could be included in the deal.

Ilya Samsonov

What’s gone on with Samsonov over the course of the last few weeks has been tough to watch. You never want to see a player lose his confidence like the Leafs netminder has and his last performance in Buffalo was very worrisome heading into 2024, considering Joseph Woll is still a few weeks away.
Samsonov was a major part of the team’s success last season, however, Treliving wasn’t chomping at the bit to get him signed to a long-term deal last summer. Turns out, that could have been a great move. Samsonov is going to need to prove himself to the organization throughout the next 50 games.
Martin Jones currently has the net and will start the majority of the games for the Maple Leafs, and I wouldn’t be shocked if Samsonov got sent down at some point to try and gain some more confidence and play consistent minutes in the AHL. It could be exactly what the doctor ordered, or it could make things even more complicated, much like what’s going on with Jack Campbell in Edmonton.
Samsonov won 27 games last season and performed very well during the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, so you know the game’s in there somewhere. Leafs goalie coach Curtis Sanford has his hands full at the moment. His goalie is 5-2-5 on the season, which isn’t the absolute worst record in the league, but his .871 Sv.% ranks among the bottom-feeders. With 15 goals allowed in his past three games, the Maple Leafs need ‘Sammy’ to turn things around in a hurry because relying on solely Jones until Woll gets back may not be the best recipe for success.

Timothy Liljegren

Liljegren’s ankle injury early on this year really set the Swedish defenceman back and it also took him out of the NHL’s Global Series in Stockholm, which was an added kick to the pants. So far on the season, the former first-round pick has recorded just three assists in 14 games.
Liljegren doesn’t need to be a Norris candidate to be impactful for the Maple Leafs, he just needs to be defensively sound, chip in on both PP and PK and with some consistent secondary offence. He has the potential to hit 30 points regularly and as a right-handed d-man, is vital in Toronto. Keefe doesn’t have a lot at his disposal and Conor Timmins has been nowhere to be found of late, which makes Liljegren’s role even more important.
The Swedish blueliner is playing more minutes than he ever has and the Maple Leafs need him to find his stride in 2024. If he creeps closer to the max of his potential, he’d give Toronto another game-changer on the blue line, which they could so desperately use.
11 shots through 14 games, Liljegren needs to join the rush more and put pucks on net to make things happen. Keefe can’t just rely on Rielly to bring offense from the blue line and it’s Liljegren who should be riding second fiddle.
The Maple Leafs may have a ton of flaws in their game but they are still a very solid hockey team who could do some serious damage this season. If Keefe can somehow get Robertson, Samsonov and Liljegren going early on in the new year, Toronto could go from a very good team to an elite one.

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