Predicting the Maple Leafs’ forward lines at full health from here on out

Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Shane Seney
1 month ago
The Maple Leafs are loaded with internal competition and with the Stanley Cup Playoffs only a month away, head coach Sheldon Keefe needs to ensure he gives everyone a chance to build some chemistry among the lineup.
There were too many times late last season and into the playoffs even, where the lineup was juggled and next thing you know, the Leafs were dressing some line combinations that hardly played together. Chemistry is vital for playoff success. The games are more intense, the buildings are rocking and time and space are rare. Knowing exactly where your linemate is, and what they’re thinking is crucial.
Here’s how the Maple Leafs lineup could look once Mitch Marner returns from injury:
Top Line – Knies, Matthews, Marner: Marner and Matthews should always be playing together. Their chemistry is off the charts and their playing styles suit each other perfectly. A pass-first magician and the best goal-scorer on the planet. When Matthews plays with Nylander, there isn’t the same obvious chemistry and too many times Nylander looks to make ‘the play’ when Matthews is sitting in his sweet spot wide open. As for Knies, there are a few options to consider at left wing, however Knies’ big frame, physicality (leads all Leafs’ forwards with 132 hits), puck-retrieval skills and his ability to think the game like Matthews and Marner are very important. Yes, the stick infractions need to go, however, it’s obvious from when this trio is firing on all cylinders that they can become the most dangerous line in the league. And for many years to come. Keefe needs to give Knies a vote of confidence and show his faith in the player by dressing him down the stretch with 34 & 16.
Bertuzzi, Tavares, Nylander: If Tavares is the second-line centre moving forward, which appears to be the case after Max Domi’s dress rehearsal, the Leafs captain should be flanked by Bertuzzi and Nylander. After a slow start to the season, Bertuzzi’s done a much better job of being a pest in front of the net and sticking to his game. If he tries to do too much or make the risky play, he gets the best of himself. Keep it simple, and big things will happen. Nylander and Tavares have played a ton together and there shouldn’t be any concerns. This line will need Nylander’s speed more than anything as Bertuzzi and Tavares aren’t the fleetest of foot.
McMann, Domi, Jarnkrok: This is where things get very interesting and quite crowded. If Tavares is down the middle and in the top six, Domi and Jarnkrok should 100% be the catalyst of the third line, with Bobby McMann and his 6-foot-2 frame on the left. There’s certainly a chance Domi could be moved up and Tavares slides into the #3 hole, as he is more defensive sound than Domi, however, neither scream shut-down centre. Jarnkrok’s the most trusted forward at Keefe’s disposal, so you can essentially put in him ink on the third line for the rest of his contract. McMann has shown his scoring touch, once again of late, and he’s not afraid to throw his weight around and usually seems to be on the right side of the puck. Nick Robertson isn’t as defensively aware as the much older McMann, however if an injury occurs, he’d be the first up to be inserted on the left wing.
Dewar, Kampf, Reaves: Ryan Reaves has been making an impact these past few weeks, and if it’s the Bruins round one, the Leafs are going to need his presence on the ice. Yes, his skill set and skating abilities are limited, however he’s shown lately he can be strong on the forecheck and appears his knee issues are behind him at the moment. Kampf is a wild-card for the Maple Leafs as they need him to be at the top of his game when it comes to killing penalties and special assignments. He’s been flying of late and is a very important player for Keefe to lean on. Dewar has three weeks to audition for the playoff lineup and considering his past of being efficient on the PK and scoring at 5vs5, he should have an upper hand on Pontus Holmberg.
With the lineup structured this way, Holmberg and Robertson are two scratches. If an injury occurs in the top-six, insert Robertson and shuffle, if one occurs in the bottom-six, insert Holmberg and shuffle. Noah Gregor appears to be the odd man out for now and will be in tough to crack the lineup, especially come playoff time.
Nevertheless, the Maple Leafs have some serious internal competition among the bottom six and Keefe is going to have some lineup options to consider down the stretch. Again, chemistry is so important come playoff time and Leafs fans should hope he finds a group he likes and sticks with it as tinkering at the wrong time could lead to another disappointing spring. Next up, the d-pairs.

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