Realistic expectations for Knies, fixing the Leafs’ top six, and playing Gustafsson: Leaflets
Photo credit:Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
By Jon Steitzer1 month ago
It’s Leaflet time and I feel like I’d be doing a disservice to myself if I didn’t immediately start off by complaining about the lack of NHL hockey last night. The NHL not only had an empty evening but chose to miss the opportunity for some daytime hockey as well, which certainly would have been welcomed by most hockey fans. Thankfully the Women’s World Hockey Championship filled the primetime void and the debut of Dennis Hildeby for the Marlies gave us some Leafs content, but with less than a week to go and teams with five games left on their schedule, it was a wild decision.
Going on record one last time about Matthew Knies
Today’s National Championship game is likely the last game Matthew Knies will play in the NCAA. That’s nothing new and honestly, Knies getting a chance to play out his goal of reaching the National Championship rather than getting him earlier in the spring is going to be better for both Knies and the Leafs long term.
It has been interesting to see how the Frozen Four tournament has played out for Knies and it certainly bares a resemblance to how he’s performed on the biggest stages previously, both at the Olympics and the World Juniors. What has happened is that Matthew Knies goes MIA from the score sheet, but the effort level from him goes through the roof. Knies is a constant forechecker, driving to the net and doing what he can to create opportunities for his linemates. It’s the team first aspect of Knies that has the potential for Knies to make an immediate impact with the Leafs. The idea that he can be a force to reckon with in the bottom six or as a complimentary player has a ton of appeal, but it’s still setting the bar incredibly high for a player who is yet to play a single professional game and won’t exactly get a ton of practice time to acclimate himself to the new situation.
So what is reasonable for Knies? Assuming the Leafs have the money to get him signed, there really isn’t a reason not to play him in the final three games available. There are plenty of Leafs that could use a night of rest and it seems like the best way of measuring where the Leafs are starting from with Knies and can best inform what his summer development plan should look like.
As for the playoffs, the Leafs have a pretty sound group of 12 forwards to start the playoffs. There are also some good relief options like Holmberg, Abruzzese, and Zohorna that Knies will have to compete with too. Having Knies around the Leafs playing at playoff level intensity is a great opportunity but not one that lends itself to holding his hand through the usual development stuff new pros get. If Knies gets playoff time that is a big step for him, regardless of where in the lineup he plays.
Spreading the love around
Let me go on record as not being a fan of the Nylander-Tavares-Marner line. Equally, I’m not a fan of the Bunting-Matthews-Jarnkrok. The Tavares line looks at an attempt to overload opponents, but with Nylander and Tavares not at the top level, it looks very watered down. As for Matthews, I don’t think I’m crazy to suggest a playmaker on his line.
I know we are very much in the dog days of the season and nothing really matters, but Bunting elevating his game at the right time and Jarnkrok having recent success with both of the top two centers seems to provide enough flexibility that solution might be top six classic:
Having O’Reilly as an option as needed certainly helps and Kerfoot-O’Reilly-Whomever looks to be enough of an offensive threat as well against the lesser competition they’d face. Couple that with the fourth line doing what you’d hope to see from a fourth line and at least the bottom six seem to be sorted out.
All Erik Gustafsson All the time
I don’t even feel like this is a load management thing as much as it is worth the Leafs’ time to get a good look at Erik Gustafsson in the remaining few games.
Gustafsson looks to be one of the odd men out along with Liljegren and Timmins, but this is largely ignoring that a potential Gustafsson-Liljegren pairing could be worth a serious look. It would be nice to see this duo in the Leafs’ lineup for the remaining four games and rotate out the remaining three pairings at least once a piece. Depending on how Gustafsson looks and I guess to some extent, how Liljegren looks, it might be worth seeing if Gustafsson could be a fit with a different partner as well, but at least heading into the start of the playoffs Gustafsson-Liljegren looks like a real option to replace Giordano-Holl if things don’t click there. I wouldn’t hate seeing a Giordano-Gustafsson pairing as well to see if that could be a thing.
The reality is that what we’ve seen is what we’ll get, but there are a lot of eggs being put in some questionable baskets. If Luke Schenn’s physical game doesn’t have enough of an impact, if Justin Holl isn’t playing his best hockey, or if anyone has enough of an injury that they are perceived to be a bit of a liability, Gustafsson and/or Liljegren will need to be ready and Gustafsson needs a chance to get used to Toronto and not just in an 11F/7D situation.
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