Maple Leafs Rookie Tournament, Noah Gregor’s tryout, and playoff hockey: Leaflets
Photo credit:Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports
By Jon Steitzer12 days ago
We’re less than two weeks away from training camp and a number of the Leafs are already back in Toronto and hitting the ice in informal skates. There are already a few quotes trickling in about excitement for this year and how great everyone is, but before we know it there will be actual hockey to talk about. Here are a few small notes to tide us over.
Rookies off to Traverse City next week
Next Thursday marks the start of the Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan, hosted by the Detroit Red Wings. The Maple Leafs prospects will join prospects from the Stars, Wings, and Blue Jackets for this chance to prove that they are worthy of AHL contracts, NHL contracts, or an invite to the main Maple Leafs training camp. Different expectations depending on the tier of prospect, of course.
Prior to that we’ll get a limited rookie camp which is essentially a reboot of the development camp over the summer. A few new players but most notably a lack of NCAA players and players who are back with their European clubs. Expect a roster soon. Expect to enjoy having something resembling hockey back. Don’t expect to take a whole lot away from what you see on the ice. The tournament is a good chance to see who looks to be the fastest or strongest and there is probably a lot less concern about who is getting on the scoresheet. For some players who already seem likely destined to be in the Leafs main camp this could just be getting their legs moving again before the real work begins and trying to avoid the fate of Roni Hirvonen and running into someone who is trying to make a name for themselves in this tournament. And there will be players looking to find ways of getting noticed.
Really the main takeaways might be as simple as seeing if Roni Hirvonen is back and looks to be back on track or gauging if Topi Niemela looks to be a cut above his peers. And for years the Leafs organization has been excited about some guys we might not be and it’s a chance to form an opinion of the Braeden Kressler’s of the world.
Noah Gregor’s PTO
Gregor is apparently on his way to Toronto on Monday to join the Maple Leafs to get settled and potentially join the Leafs for some informal work according his radio hit on Sports 1440 in Edmonton.
I like the addition of Gregor to the Leafs camp for a few reasons. The first is that at 25 years old there is potentially a lot of hockey still in front of this kid and with the entirety of his pro experience being with a struggling Sharks organization he is worth a look to see if there is something new that can be developed.
There is also the nice benefit of Gregor being a centre option. Most sites list Gregor as a centre, but the reality is that he’s played wing almost exclusively at the NHL level so I will pump the breaks on Gregor as a centre option unless he’s putting in work in the AHL to move back to that role. The AHL hasn’t really been part of Gregor’s pro path, but with the lack of NHL contracts this summer that might chance and with a Leafs organization that would be looking at him as depth rather than the Sharks organization that needed NHL capable players regardless of whether they were high performers or not means the Marlies are a very realistic option here and might be the best approach.
And finally, there is a bit of offence here. Similar to the offence that Sam Lafferty put up in Chicago, you’d potentially get that from Gregor based on his San Jose numbers. If the Leafs look to Kampf & Co. as a potential shutdown third line group, someone like Gregor alongside Lafferty and someone like Robertson is a fourth line capable of pushing the puck up ice.
The underlying numbers on Gregor however do raise a lot of concern and at some point you need to appreciate that it was as much Gregor making things tough on the Sharks as it was the Sharks making things tough on Gregor. His numbers aren’t going to be great because of where he played, but relative to his San Jose teammates Gregor’s numbers were often worse. Although it is worth mentioning his strong shot attempt against numbers in comparison to his peers and that’s something the Leafs can potentially work with.
The Leafs being a team that can benefit from NHL ready Marlies, centre depth, and having a variety of options in the bottom six still make this a solid low risk move for the Leafs. At the very least he allows for other veteran players to sit during preseason games and forces some bottom six forward competition.
The Playoff Dress Rehearsal
Over the past few weeks TLN has been running prediction articles on individual players and while I generally don’t share the enthusiasm that everyone is on the cusp of their career year, I can appreciate that individual success stories is what will kill the time until we get around to the playoffs. And that’s what will be interesting to measure this season, how ready the Leafs are for the playoffs.
While Leafs fans were buried in our own self-pity regarding the swift exit from the second round last year we might have ignored one really interesting tidbit. The Boston Bruins and their record setting regular season were bounced in the first round, not surprisingly by the same Florida Panthers. For the most part the story around the Bruins is that they’ve been built the “right way” they were tough, they had leadership, they had two defencemen you could debate for the Norris trophy, and they had Vezina calibre goaltending with a backup who could start on most teams in the league. If the Bruins could get bounced, so could anyone and that really brings us to what do we expect from the Leafs in the regular season leading into the post season.
The biggest issue I’ve had with the Leafs’ post season effort is that they fundamentally change their strategy the second they enter a best-of-seven series. You’ve spent the majority of the season playing one way and drastically change in the playoffs. It doesn’t work, no matter the talent. If the Leafs are going to be damned, they need to be damned for who they are. Make small adjustments to gain an edge on your opponent, not overhaul your strategy and drop your stars down below 20 minutes a night so you can use David Kampf for line matching. I’m sure I’m not saying anything new here, but who they Leafs learn they are by Game 20 should probably be the team they are for the start of the playoffs. Assuming the Leafs are winning by Game 20, but that leads to a bigger problem.
I’m sure I’m not alone in the downgraded “give a shit” level for the regular season and I’m equally sure that a large number of us don’t care about individual accomplishments. It’s the playoffs or bust, and while that is an understandable attitude to have, we probably should try to enjoy the regular season because even the 2022-23 Bruins ran into trouble and I’m not sure anyone is predicting the Leafs to be that good.
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