Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Maple Leafs provide reasons for optimism as their Swedish trip begins
By Shane Seney3 months ago
The sky is no longer falling in Toronto as the Maple Leafs have found a way to take all four points this weekend from the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks. The Leafs now depart for Stockholm, Sweden as one of the four teams who will partake in the NHL’s global series and there’s a lot to be encouraged about with the current state of the team.
Here’s five things to be excited about with the Leafs:
1. Newly Constructed Third Line
Boy oh boy is Nick Robertson ever back. After calling himself out as a prospect who was losing his name in training camp to being sent down to start the season, to now finding his niche on the third line left wing, Robertson seems to have found a home.
The trio of Max Domi, Robertson and Calle Jarnkrok have been all over the ice and all over the scoresheet since Robertson was recalled four games ago. While the line doesn’t have a ton of size and isn’t the prototypical shutdown set up, they’ve been effective and continue to create space using their speed and vision and are playing with serious tenacity. Something the Leafs desperately needed more of.
By the numbers – Domi is on a heater with five assists in his last four games, along with a beauty snipe to help defeat the Flames in a shootout. He’s been using his feet which was something the bench was screaming at him to do more of a ton over his first 11 games in blue and white. Seeing him stick up for Robertson and fight Ian Cole on Saturday night after the Canucks defenceman laid his linemate out was some next level stuff:
The exact type of team toughness and team camaraderie head coach Sheldon Keefe was looking for more of lately.
Robertson has registered two goals and two assists in his four Maple Leaf games this season and appears to be getting settled in more defensively. He plays with so much speed that sometimes it gets in his own way and he’s not on the right side of the puck, but he’s seemed to honed that in a touch and has been more composed on the ice. His potential is a 50-point player so seeing the former second-round pick start off the season with points in four straight games is such a good sign. Injury after injury, it’s great to see Robertson producing for the Maple Leafs.
Jarnkrok can’t be forgotten either as he’s continues to be a trusted forward for coach Keefe. It just seems like whatever role the team needs he’s able to provide and it doesn’t matter where in the lineup he’s situated. Jarnkrok’s collected three goals and one assist since Robertson and Domi have joined him on the third line.
2. William Nylander
While the TTC coverage may be completely overblown, the hype surrounding the Maple Leafs superstar is 100% warranted as Nylander has started this season in amazing fashion. His game has never been more complete and every time he’s got the puck on his stick, good things happen. The patience, the poise, and the release are something special right now.
There’s a whole new aura around #88 for the Leafs this season and if it’s because of the contract situation, then just sign him to one-year deals for the rest of time. Whatever seems to be motivating him is working out just fine.
Nylander ranks tied for third in NHL scoring and has easily been the Maple Leafs most consistent producer since the puck dropped on the 2023-24 season. 15 games, at least a point in every one and 22 points total.
Nylander makes way to his native land of Sweden and surely will be playing host in some capacity this week. It’s going to be a massive week for him and several other of the Swedes on the Leafs roster as they’ll be trying to show off their country to their teammates and all of the beautiful things Stockholm has to offer.
Yes, it would be magical to have news break while the Leafs on our the trip that Nylander has signed a massive long-term extension to remain a Maple Leaf for the next eight years. Give it to us, Brad.
3. Nylander Isn’t the Only Core Forward Producing
The Leafs have been blasted for years about how their top four players are taking up way too much cap space but big-time players need big-time contracts and the Leafs core four has been special this season.
Matthews is scoring at will and appears healthier than ever. Id’ love to see him get more reps on the penalty kill and see if he can help improve the effectiveness of the PK as the Leafs sit 29th in the league but that’s here nor there. Matthews is on his way to another Rocket Richard trophy as the league’s top scorer and the way he, Matthew Knies and Mitch Marner will be fun to watch together moving forward this season.
Speaking of Marner, he’s been solid this season with 17 points in 15 games. He only has 36 shots in 15 games this season, compared to Nylander’s 70, so I’d certainly love to see him shoot the puck more. With Knies in front and causing a disruption, good things will happen.
Captain Tavares continues to shut up the doubters and the naysayers as he’s been busy putting food on Knies’ plate at the house but also producing for his teammates on the ice. 16 points in 15 games but also a very impressive 62% on faceoffs this season. The Leafs have leaned on Tavares heavily when it comes to winning big draws and this will continue throughout the season. The core four of the Maple Leafs is stronger than it’s ever been and that’s bad news bears for the rest of the NHL.
4. Goaltending is Tracking the Right Direction
Ilya Samsonov was absolutely solid against the Canucks on Saturday night and it appears he’s starting to find his game. It’s been a fragile start to the season for the Russian netminder and he’s been trying to build his confidence back up in a major way. He stopped 31 of 33 shots against Vancouver and won his first game since Oct.14. You could see the faces of his teammates when the horn went and how genuinely happy everyone was to see Sammy get some results.
Joseph Woll, like Samsonov has had some shining moments this season but overall, the Leafs duo have been inconsistent. Woll’s numbers have been better overall than Samsonov, with a .907 save % to Sammy’s .870 , but unfortunately he’s let in 10 goals in his last two games. Woll will likely get the Sunday game against the Minnesota Wild as Keefe should go back to Samsonov on Friday against the Detroit Red Wings.
Leafs goaltending coach Curtis Sanford has been putting extra work in with both netminders and the results are starting to show. The Leafs still need to find a way make life easier for both goalies as there’s been issues defensively, to say the least, but both Woll and Samsonov have been starting to show that they can be there for their teammates when they need a big save and it was as evident as ever against the Canucks most recently. At under $5 million combined against the salary cap, the time is now for the Leafs to take advantage.
The Maple Leafs are most dangerous when both goalies are going and they are splitting the work and keeping each other fresh with the internal competition, so let’s hope we see more of this in and after the trip to Sweden.
5. Noah Gregor
Perhaps the fastest skater on the Leafs, Noah Gregor has battled his way for a roster spot and now isn’t going anywhere. I’m actually predicting that Gregor scores the first goal of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the Leafs, it just seems like he’s going to have type of impact when the games matter the most.
Gregor’s used his blazing speed to catch defencemen off guard, to be sound defensively, and also to help cover the ass of some of his linemates, *cough*cough, Ryan Reaves.
Gregor’s playing himself into a contract extension with the Leafs and along with David Kampf and Bobby McMann, had the fourth line looking the best it has all season. There was one point where Gregor was using his speed to create a chance off the rush and Nylander and Matthews were shown standing on the bench enjoying the fireworks. Gregor’s a spark and he’s one the Leafs will be relying on throughout the entire season.
Should an injury take place, Gregor will be able to move up the lineup but for now, it’s perfectly situated on the team’s fourth line. Id’ love to see him get a bigger role killing penalties but for now, he’s providing some effective depth for the Leafs and that’s a very good sign for Toronto.
There’s lots to love about the Maple Leafs as they head across the pond to Sweden. The top dogs are consistent, the bottom-six depth is starting to find their way and there’s been some good signs in the crease. Yes, 8-5-2 isn’t anything to write home about, but the team is starting to trend in the right direction.
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