Goals and expectations for every right winger on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ depth chart
Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
By Alex Hobson1 month ago
Welcome back to our goals and expectations series here at The Leafs Nation. So far, we’ve covered every goaltender and defenceman in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ system, and today we’re going to dip into the forwards for the first time. To kick things off, a look at every right wing in the organization.
2022-23 was another run of the mill season for Marner. And when I say run of the mill, I mean 90+ points, 30 goals, and a Selke nomination. He took a noticeable step forward last season, finishing in the top three of Selke voting for the first time in his career, and finishing the year with 99 points in 80 games. To follow that up, he led the team in scoring in the playoffs with 14 points through 11 games.
There isn’t really much else to say about Marner here in terms of goals and expectations. For a guy whose contract gets brought up every time he hits a slide, the expectation should simply be that he does the things that he gets paid to do; be among the top point producers and play elite shutdown hockey.
With the departure of Michael Bunting and the subsequent addition of Tyler Bertuzzi, he’s likely going to have a new linemate in 2022-23. And considering his new teammate scored 30 goals in 68 games back in 2021-22 and finished the season with a five goal, ten point playoff performance in the Boston Bruins’ short-lived playoff run, there’s potential for a new level of offensive production to be unlocked this season.
If you’ve seen Nylander’s name on social media or in the news this offseason, there’s a 99% chance it was related to his ongoing contract negotiations. So, for the purpose of not beating a dead horse, we’re going to focus on his expectations as if he’s playing out the 2023-24 season, extension or not.
For a guy who’s taken as much heat as Nylander has in the past five years, he’s demonstrated quite the ability to consistently improve every year and seemingly feed off of media scrutiny. He had the best season of his career to date in 2022-23, scoring 40 goals for the first time and hitting the 87-point mark, while appearing in all 82 games of the season.
Between Bertuzzi, Matthew Knies, Max Domi, and Calle Jarnkrok, the Maple Leafs have a plethora of options for Nylander to play alongside this season, so it will be interesting to see who he finds chemistry with. He may even end up returning to Auston Matthews’ wing at some point, there are lots of different ways to go. In the end, if he improves on last season and keeps showing up when it matters, it will be a successful year for him. His goal should ultimately be coming to an agreement with the team at this point (sorry, I had to).
Signed to a four-year contract worth $2.1 million annually prior to the 2022-23 season, Jarnkrok quietly had a career year with the Maple Leafs. He hit the 20-goal mark for the first time in his career and proved to be a versatile option in the middle-six while providing solid defence along the way. At one point, Matthews singled him out for having the best shot on the team, solid praise considering the source.
One thing to note about Jarnkrok’s production last season is that the majority of it came while playing alongside Matthews, or just in the top-six in general. With the new players added this off-season, he likely won’t get as many top-six opportunities. That being said, there’s potential for a solution.
When he was on the third line last season, he was usually playing alongside some sort of mix of David Kampf, Pierre Engvall, and Alex Kerfoot. With due respect to those players, and while they formed a great checking line, they aren’t offensive-minded players. Domi, meanwhile, is a playmaker who probably has better odds of helping Jarnkrok produce. It’s unknown where he’ll fit in the lineup, or who he’ll be playing with, but the possibility of skating alongside Domi could benefit him. If he gets this opportunity, combined with time on the second power play unit, I could see his first 40 point season happening. If not, the goal should be that he picks up where he left off last season.
At first glance, the Reaves contract made me cringe, and it probably didn’t help that it was Brad Treliving’s first move of the offseason. Spending over $1 million over three years on somebody primarily known for his fists in an era where players like him are less and less common every year to this day doesn’t seem like a great call.
That being said, I’ve come to understand that this was one of those contracts that goes beyond just the on-ice ability and the dollar value. Reaves is a notably popular player in the dressing room wherever he goes, and for a Maple Leafs dressing room that could use a voice like that, his presence could go a long way. The ultimate goal for Reaves would be that he provides a spark big enough to improve the Maple Leafs’ team toughness as a whole. If he can do that, it will be much easier to forgive the lack of footspeed and offensive production.
One thing I’m realizing looking at the Maple Leafs’ depth chart is that while they’ve got a plethora of forward prospects who can play multiple positions, they really don’t have too many prospects who are natural and true right wingers. So, I’m going to classify some of these multi-position players as right wingers, and we’ll start with Bobby McMann.
For a player who was originally undrafted, spent multiple years playing college hockey, had a quick stop in the ECHL and took a massive step forward in the AHL, McMann has a pretty cool story. He was signed to a two-year NHL contract following the 2021-22 season, and had a breakout season in the AHL with a whopping 21 goals and eight assists and 29 games with the Toronto Marlies. The offence didn’t translate to the NHL in his brief stint with the Maple Leafs, with only one assist in ten games, but he didn’t look out of place.
He will require waivers in the fall, so it will be interesting to see what the Maple Leafs do with him. While there might not be space for him on the roster right now, he would provide excellent injury insurance. But, that would require him to either remain with the team as an extra full time or pass through waivers, which I personally don’t see happening. The 27 year-old shouldn’t be considered a prospect at this point, so his goal should be to push for more playing time and making a conscious effort to stay in the lineup should injuries happen.
Like McMann, Steeves is another undrafted prospect who took a significant step forward in 2022-23. The 24 year-old speedster tallied 46 points in 58 AHL games in 2021-22, and maintained his production last season with 51 points in 65 games. Unlike McMann, the 23 year-old has another year where he can be sent down and recalled from the AHL without requiring waivers, making things a little easier for the Maple Leafs.
Like McMann, however, Steeves is currently in a bit of a spot of limbo. He’s probably done enough in the AHL to warrant a decent look in the NHL, but the Maple Leafs simply might not have the space for him. When you’re a player in his position in this day and age, all you can do is focus on your game and try to force your team into making space for you, and his goal for the upcoming season should be just that.
Making his way to North America for the first time, Ovchinnikov is an interesting name to keep an eye on. The Russian winger was selected in the fifth round of the 2020 NHL Draft after a strong season in the MHL, which is Russia’s junior league, but he had a tough time securing regular playing time in the KHL. That is, until last season, when he joined Sibir Novosibirsk and tallied 13 points in 68 games in his rookie campaign.
The important thing to remember about Ovchinnikov, and I say this about every European prospect, point totals with pro Euro teams should always be taken with a grain of salt. Sibir’s head coach isn’t focused on developing prospects for the Maple Leafs, he’s trying to ice the best possible roster. So, now the focus turns to adapting to North American ice for a full season. If he can be a contributing member of the top nine and maybe push for some power play minutes, it will be a successful season for him.
Yet another undrafted prospect, Ellis was signed to a two-year contract by the Maple Leafs back in 2022 following a few successful seasons with the University of Notre Dame. The 5-foot-9 forward had a pretty solid first season with the Marlies, recording 20 points in 49 games. He’s a strong forechecker whose combination of being a shoot-first player and an energy player bodes well for his ability to play up and down the lineup.
I wouldn’t expect to see Ellis in the NHL next season unless the whole Maple Leafs team turns into a hospital wing, but with players like Steeves likely higher than him on the waiting list when it comes to injury potential, he should be ready to pick up some of the slack offensively should extra ice time open up. At the age of 23, he’s got lots of time to hone his skills in the AHL, and should primarily be focusing on that.
When the Maple Leafs drafted Grebyonkin in 2022, most people looked past it. They’ve had a tendency to select at least one Russian player, sometimes an overage player (Yegor Korshkov, Nikolai Chebykin, Vladislav Kara to name a few) and at first glance, Grebyonkin looks like another one of them. But the 2022-23 season proved that he’s got a significant step ahead on the rest of those names.
Standing at 6-foot-2 and 176 pounds, the left-handed right winger had a stunning rookie season for Amur Khabarovsk of the KHL, finishing with 26 points in 45 games. He’s still under contract in Russia and will be playing for Metallurg Magnitogorsk next season, so if he takes another step forward this season, we might be seeing him in North America sooner rather than later. Ultimately, his goal should simply be focusing on improving his individual game and continuing his development.
Moldenhauer will be a fun prospect to keep tabs on in 2023-24. After taking a giant step forward with the USHL’s Chicago Steel, registering 75 points in 55 games, he’ll be playing for the University of Michigan this season, joining the likes of Jets prospect Rutger McGroarty, Blackhawks prospect Frank Nazar, and Blue Jackets prospect Gavin Brindley.
The Mississauga native took the scenic route in his pro career, opting to play college hockey in the United States rather than playing in the OHL. It’s a route not commonly taken by Canadian prospects, but one that’s seemingly worked out to date for Moldenhauer. He has the potential to be a pesky top-9 forward with smooth development, so his goal for this season should be to have a strong freshman season and hopefully catch the eyes of Maple Leafs’ management.
Speaking of players who take unconventional routes in their career, Miettinen is a small Finnish winger who, like Moldenhauer, came to the United States to play college hockey rather than playing in their home countries. After a ridiculous 2019-20 season with Finland’s junior league that saw him put up 73 points in 52 games, he had a strong freshman season with St. Cloud State University with 24 points in 31 games.
Unfortunately, he took a bit of a step back the following year, finishing with only 23 points in 37 games. He had a pretty solid bounceback season to salvage some hope this year, recording 36 points in 41 games, and his goal should be to take a significant step forward in 2023-24. He may have been one of the first players in line to earn an entry-level contract had he taken a step forward after his freshman season, and he can still achieve that feat, but a strong performance in 2023-24 is a must.
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