Maple Leafs cut deep and have few roster decisions left

Photo credit:Steven Ellis/Daily Faceoff
Jon Steitzer
8 months ago
Everyone loves cut day. (Except for the 27 players who were assigned to the Marlies.) Preseason games don’t give you a whole lot to talk about but cuts, they are what make the regular season start feeling real. With just over a week until the regular season and now just two preseason games remaining the Leafs cleaned house when it came to a lot of the Marlies and Growlers depth.
When it came to the cuts there are a few interesting decisions that were made. The Leafs, at least until later in the day on Tuesday have opted to keep a number of their junior players around. Players like Easton Cowan and Fraser Minten have certainly earned the opportunity to spend every last minute they can with the club, but it seems incredibly unlikely that either has a chance of making the Leafs. Some of the other junior players, those on invites, it comes down to whether or not the Leafs wish to offer them a contract. Spencer Sova was one such player highlighted by Nick Richard in his summary of the cuts yesterday. 
Some of the other players that have hung around are those that will have to clear waivers in order to reach the Marlies. Kyle Clifford, Dylan Gambrell, Simon Benoit, Bobby McMann, Max Lajoie, Martin Jones, and William Lagesson are the interesting players to watch here. Martin Jones will most certainly be the most intriguing player to try to get to the Marlies and it seems like the last minute attempt is the way the Leafs will go. Bobby McMann and William Lagesson are the two others I would watch carefully. (McMann primarily because I could see Kyle Dubas wanting to give him another go.)
When it comes to the intriguing names that remain part in the fight for a potential roster spot, the Leafs are down to Pontus Holmberg, Nick Robertson, and Mikko Kokkonen as the interesting waivers exempt options pushing for a spot. Yesterday I wrote about how now doesn’t seem like the right time for Nick Robertson and the ten minutes of ice time on Monday night didn’t change that. Holmberg hasn’t grabbed a spot and both Keefe and Treliving seem more interested in Noah Gregor at this point.
As for Kokkonen, things seemed to have clicked for him since the last time we saw him. His low risk-low excitement hockey looks like it could have him landing a depth spot on the Leafs thanks to the Klingberg and Timmins injuries. It will come down to how comfortable the Leafs are with putting Lajoie, Benoit, and Lagesson on waivers so that Kokkonen can get a further look. If the Leafs truly believe in Kokkonen, the risk of waivers on any of those other players shouldn’t hold them up.
Now when it comes to the interesting departures, well…the guys who were sent down are absolutely the guys you’d expect to see sent down. No matter how good Alex Steeves and Nick Abruzzese looked in training camp and the preseason it seemed the Leafs opening roster was going to be next to impossible to crack. What they have done is put themselves firmly on Treliving’s radar as potential injury relief and last season it seemed that they were no longer being looked at that way. Both forwards will need to play key roles in the Marlies top six this season and having them there for the opening of the Marlies camp makes some sense too, although both could have been reasonable options to help Toronto sit a couple of veterans in one of the final games of the preseason. As much as a bit of rest before the regular season grind is something I’d consider worthwhile, Sheldon Keefe has always preferred to use as close to his NHL roster as possible in the final games.
If there was another interesting cut it would  probably be Topi Niemela. Niemela had a memorable blunder early in the second preseason game and while I doubt the organization is going to hold them against him long term, it certainly didn’t help his case for sticking around with the Leafs a little longer and even at a time of a thinning Leafs blueline, Niemela is gone a few games earlier. Giving a longer look to a top prospect seems to be the strategy being employed with the Leafs junior bound players and even Nick Robertson, so it not happening with Niemela is a little stranger. Perhaps the idea of having him work longer with his new AHL coach, who happens to be quite good with defencemen is the reasoning.
While we can sit around and debate the order of the cuts or the timing of the cuts, ultimately the Leafs will be starting with a 20 player roster and it’s the exact 20 players you’d expect them to use. They get Gregor signed and Klingberg and Jarnkrok will probably be ready for the regular season so that eliminates the chance for Holmberg, Robertson or Kokkonen to stick around.
The Leafs final preseason game is on Saturday night with their first regular season game on the Wednesday that follows. Given the amount of players requiring waivers, expect the majority of the cuts to occur after the preseason wraps up, but with the junior players returned to clubs sooner than that.

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