Slotting O’Reilly back into the Leafs lineup

Photo credit:Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
1 year ago
As March comes to a close and the Leafs are now clinched as a playoff team we are going to close out the month with a few lingering questions we have about the Leafs. The first one up is the most topical and could be determined as soon as the Leafs next practice and that involves the Leafs premium trade deadline acquisition, Ryan O’Reilly.
With O’Reilly back next week and practicing with the team as soon as tomorrow, I asked the TLN contributors: When O’Reilly returns, who should he play with and why?

Michael Mazzei:

I think no matter where the Leafs decide to place him in the lineup, O’Reilly will surely do well. With that being said, having him man the third line would be the wise decision for Keefe to make. One area that has been a weakness for the Leafs over the past several playoff runs has been their lack of depth beyond the top two lines. No doubt O’Reilly has what it takes to be on the second line if needed, but it’s important that the Leafs have the edge in their bottom-six matchup, and having ROR on the third line will go a long way in that department. I wouldn’t be shocked if Keefe decided to reunite ROR with Tavares and Marner for Game 1, but I think the best option is the third line.

Colin Hunter:

Before stating my position I think it’s nice to take a step back and appreciate how nice of a problem this is to have. Regardless of whether O’Reilly plays 2C or 3C, I’m confident that he will be successful. Personally, however, I would prefer to see ROR on the third line. Given the emergence of Jarnkrok as a winger for Matthews and the already star-studded top 6, I have very little concern about the production of the top two lines given that they aren’t drastically altered. Further, in the playoffs last year we saw the stars produce in a very similar lineup. I think that bolstering the bottom-6 with ROR would be the best course of action. As for who he should play with, I would suggest Kerfoot for added speed and transition ability, and either Knies or Acciari. Obviously, Knies is the wildcard here, and I’m not counting on him being an impact player right away. However, if he is, he could bring a scoring punch to that line. Otherwise, Acciari has been playing well and could help form a more defensive, shutdown line.

Bennett Jull:

When O’Reilly returns he should play predominantly in the middle of the 3rd line. A great thing about Toronto’s forward group is the fluidity they possess. While certain players will never leave their roles, others can slide up and down the lineup and have the ability to adapt. Jarnkrok, Bunting, Kerfoot, and Lafferty can and have played on multiple lines. I foresee O’Reilly playing on Tavares’s wing should the Buds need a spark, but I prefer him in the heart of the 3rd line. I like the idea of putting Sam Lafferty on his wing. Lafferty’s skating ability complements ROR well, and their defensive capabilities would be very effective together. Placing Michael Bunting on the left wing would give the Leafs a formidable 3rd line, which has been crucial recently to go deep in the playoffs.

Jon Steitzer:

So no second line hot takes are forthcoming? I mean, if I’m being completely honest I do like Ryan O’Reilly for situations where the bench needs shorting playing up on the second line. There is a very good chance that Jarnkrok-Matthews-Marner sticks as the top line and as you’ll see below I have a particular line I like for O’Reilly in regular situations, but when the game is on the line, I’d slide O’Reilly in between Tavares and Nylander. I’d also consider it if Toronto finds itself matched with a team where top loading their lines could be beneficial. That’s not Tampa or Boston, but New Jersey would be an Eastern Conference example of who it could be beneficial against, and pretty much any Western Conference team would make sense if the Leafs manage to find themselves in the cup finals.
So like others like O’Reilly for the third line center. High end depth is king in the playoffs and with Michael Bunting falling out of the good graces of the top six, he’s a prime candidate for being secondary offence and a bit of edge next to O’Reilly. Couple the two of them with a puck hoarder and shot suppressor like Alex Kerfoot who will help slow down the neutral zone and you start to feel really good about the third line before remembering that someone needs to play on the 2nd line with Tavares and Nylander. For arguments sake, I’ll say that looks like Lafferty job with occasional Knies guest appearances.
Like Colin said, where to us O’Reilly is an incredibly nice problem to have and with the Leafs staying competitive in his absence, it’s a great reminder of how he can really put this team over the top.

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