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Why the Leafs should target Alexey Toropchenko in the wake of Nick Robertson’s trade request

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Photo credit:© Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports
Michael Mazzei
11 days ago
The Leafs have a dilemma on their hands with RFA forward Nick Robertson reportedly seeking a fresh start.
While they have invested quite a bit of time in the player even with injuries derailing his development, it is clear there is a disconnect between him and the organization. Brad Treliving could have easily not tendered a QO and let Robertson go, but he recognizes that there is still some value in the player that plenty of other teams could be interested in acquiring.
An ideal scenario for a Robertson trade would involve a team that needs additional scoring and has plenty of wingers that would entice the Leafs to want to bring back in return. I would imagine a preferable destination would be somewhere in the Western Conference and with a team that feels it has a place in the lineup for Robertson to thrive. In return, Toronto would get back a forward who brings something different to the table while still providing some offence.
There is only one player I have in mind that would make total sense as the return piece: Alexey Toropchenko.
Those of you who have been following me on Twitter know full well that I have been banging on the drum of wanting the Leafs to bring in Toropchenko for quite some time because there is a lot I like about his game. He is tall, responsible defensively, effective at killing penalties, and has a bit of a scoring touch as seen in the above clip. He will also give you an honest effort every single night because he is willing to do what it takes to win, whether that be through laying the body or getting in the middle of scrums.
Torochenko is the kind of player that Craig Berube loves having on his roster, and the two know each other well because they worked together for parts of three seasons. Berube publicly gave the 25-year-old winger high praise on numerous occasions throughout the years and was always complimentary of how he gave a consistent effort every single game. With Robertson now on the trade block, I would imagine Berube would be suggesting Toropchenko to Treliving as a player to get back in return.
One thing that makes Toropchenko so tantalizing is the fact that he skates well for a player standing at 6’6″ and weighing 222 pounds. That means he can give fits to the opposition at both ends of the ice because he can get the puck up the ice for a scoring chance while not needing many strides to close the gap defensively. His larger frame means he also has a large wingspan which makes it easier for him to reach his stick in for poke checks or steals. That is the kind of thing that the Leafs could use more of both in their bottom six and on the penalty kill.
He is coming off a career season where he recorded 21 points (14 goals and seven assists) in 82 games played. While those numbers may not seem impressive at first glance, remember that the Blues were a team that struggled to generate offence all season so Toropchenko is far from the reason why St. Louis missed the playoffs. While he struggled in the first half, he started to find a groove in the second half of the season where the offence became more consistent and he showed flashes of the type of player he could become if granted a larger role. No clip better illustrates the potential he has from a skill perspective than this incredible goal he scored against the Canadiens earlier this season:
In terms of underlying metrics at 5v5, Toropchenko’s numbers are about what you would expect for a bottom-six forward who started the majority of his shifts in the defensive zone.
CF%
FF%
SF%
GF%
XGF%
SCF%
HDCF%
HDGF%
PDO
40.15
41.00
41.07
43.63
41.98
40.31
42.55
44.83
1.007
They are certainly far from impressive, but remember that the Blues struggled at times last season with generating offence and that results in more time chasing the game. As I mentioned earlier, Toropchenko would be tasked with starting most of his shifts in his own end and that is naturally going to make the underlying numbers not look great. What also doesn’t help is when his most frequent linemates are players like Nathan Walker, Jakob Vrana, and Sammy Blais; not exactly the type of linemates that can get a lot out of the player.
Despite his warts, it is hard not to get excited at the prospects of what he could become if put in a more ideal situation where his skill set can be used better. Toropchenko already has a knack for throwing hits (his 165 hits would have him fourth on the Leafs) and is an effective penalty-killer. If you pair him alongside a two-way player and a playmaker, then Toropchenko could see himself be more of a power forward.
That potential was on full display during his time with the Guelph Storm in 2019 where he was a valuable secondary scorer all season en route to an appearance in the Memorial Cup. That may have come five years ago but that player is still there and just needs to be implemented properly. A team like the Leafs that remains gifted with offensive weapons would be the type of situation that would allow Toropchenko to unlock that other gear.
Blues fans have taken a liking to him because of his honest effort, but I think him being traded for Robertson makes a lot of sense for both parties. St. Louis requires more scoring as they finished 24th in the league in goals scored, which Robertson would help solve. The Leafs could use some improvements defensively up front while also adding some additional physicality; Toropchenko would help out in that department.
This is the type of trade that could work out well for both sides and get them what they need while not breaking the bank in terms of asset management. Given that Toropchenko is locked up and Robertson needs an extension, the Leafs would likely have to throw in a pick (a third or a fourth) to make the value more equal. Another way it could be achieved is by making the two players part of a larger trade between the Leafs and Blues.
Whichever way it comes to fruition, the Leafs need to find a way to get Toropchenko on the Leafs. He is the kind of player they would be interested in targeting and the Blues are the type of team that presents a more appealing scenario for Robertson.
At the very least, Toropchenko would not need much time to get adjusted to Berube’s system because he already knows what to expect.

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