Three things to be excited about coming into training camp: Leaflets

Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
9 months ago
If there are two things I’m not excited about its posts that are essentially lists and the NHL preseason. Considering that I just made another little mini-list as I complained about lists we might as well go all on in this and discuss what there is to be excited about as training camps open up. I’ve been alive long enough to realize that there is not much use in considering preseason performance. The preseason try-hards might do well enough to earn a spot out of camp but often it doesn’t take too long before the NHL catches up to their effort and passes them. That’s not to say that Pontus Holmberg wasn’t a pleasant surprise last season and I hope he can mirror that effort, but ultimately the preseason is largely about dusting off the cobwebs. Training camps still have some value and that’s where I can still muster some enthusiasm, even if we only get to consume limited doses of what is happening there.
So given that I saw “Three things I’m excited for in Leafs camp” making the rounds on BlueSky, I’m going to do my best to turn that simple question into this highly clickable post.

The bizarre line combo or defence pairing

Just as many a Leafs fans have spent the summer galaxy-braining line combinations and defensive pairings, the same is true of Sheldon Keefe. He’s been given some interesting additions in Reaves, Bertuzzi, Domi and Klingberg, and has some youngsters in Knies, Robertson, Holmberg, and Timmins to sort out as well. The same way we are all curious if the Leafs can turn four stars into three productive lines, it’s guaranteed the Leafs have been thinking the same way and that is going to produce something interesting in the early days of camp and could become incredibly interesting if it sticks the rest of the way.
Some of that interesting stuff might be as simple as revisiting Calle Jarnkrok at centre or giving Max Domi a shot up the middle as well. I’m sure we aren’t going to see Dylan Gambrell riding shotgun on the Tavares line or anything too crazy like that outside of maybe the first couple of split-squad games, but who plays with whom will be a great story to follow.
There really isn’t much need to get worked up over who is skating with who in the early days of camp so I think the real excitement comes late in the camp. If it’s October 1st and we are still seeing Calle Jarnkrok on a line with Nick Robertson and Mitch Marner, we have to begin to adjust our way of thinking about this team.

The John Klingberg fit

The less excited I am about a player the more excited I am to see what becomes of them in training camp. A lot of money was thrown at John Klingberg and I am still a bit confused why that was necessary and how the Leafs potentially get their return on that investment. That’s what training camp is all about.
I personally don’t see how John Klingberg as he was last season is someone that you put in your top four for 5v5 on play, but there is value in him as a special teams guy. He’s big and capable of sweeping the puck down ice so he can certainly check the box for penalty killer, but more importantly, he’s the combination of puck mover and heavy shot that the Leafs have been missing from their top power-play unit. If Klingberg does land in that spot it becomes an interesting situation to see how Morgan Rielly will be deployed. Rielly’s offence has always been more 5v5 driven than on the power play so it might not be overly controversial to make that switch. It will matter a little how Rielly takes to that change and that it isn’t seen as a slight.

Topi Niemela

The Leafs have preconditioned a lot of us to believe that Niemela is going to be a special player. He looked solid in his World Juniors appearance, he’s had two strong seasons in the Liiga, and he made an immediate impact in the AHL. The preseason is by no means going to give us a conclusive finding on how far Niemela is away from the NHL but it gives us a preseason barometer of knowing how quick he is compared to rusty NHLers and guys trying to grab the final roster spots, we’ll see if his decision making outsmarts smarter players and if he comes to the decisions quickly enough, and we’ll get a sense for what kind of partner the Leafs think he’s best suited to play with.
Everything about the end of the Brad Treliving era in Calgary alluded to Treliving very much being an “over ripen guy” when it comes to prospects and the message was loud and clear that more AHL players in the Calgary organization were going to get their shot with this new regime. That means that if you want to see Niemela now and are excited about him you might want to check out at least one or two preseason games. It also could mean that in Calgary that Brad Treliving had Darryl Sutter as the Head Coach and knew that that coach wasn’t going to play rookies, so it could be all bets are off now in Toronto. (Generally, it doesn’t seem wise to be too set in one mindset regarding players’ paths to the NHL.)
No matter what Niemela will add some fun to a time that is normally a mixed bag of being excited about the return of hockey but then being treated to some of the worst hockey you could possibly see. And it will certainly be nice to put trade and contract talk on hold for a while to focus on stuff happening on the ice.

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