Young players offer up exciting future following a grim few weeks inside Maple Leafs organization

Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Barden
10 months ago
It’s been a wild last few weeks within the Maple Leafs organization, though as we move forward, the future looks as enticing as ever.
This might not have been the way fans — and now former GM Kyle Dubas — wanted the season finale to play out. However, one aspect remains certain: Whoever Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan hires will have a nice crop of players to sort through.
There’s obviously the big four, and according to reports, their future looks to be locked in with Toronto. There’s the soon-to-be UFAs, like Noel Acciari, Michael Bunting, David Kampf, Alex Kerfoot, Ryan O’Reilly, Erik Gustafsson, and Luke Schenn.
Also in the fold, though, are some of the younger players who haven’t quite gotten a chance to find their footing at the NHL level. And to me, those are the players I’m most keen on seeing once the next season gets underway.
The future isn’t all that grim after all.

Bobby McMann’s strength is his strength

The 26-year-old was an exciting addition when he joined the Maple Leafs this past season. We all remember the call-up he received, and the whirlwind that it was for McMann as he got to bring his father on Toronto’s ‘Dad’s trip’ after making his NHL debut.
“That’ll be a nice surprise for him off the plane,” McMann said back in January, while grinning ear to ear.
His debut was everything you’d expect from the 26-year-old. McMann is a powerful skater who is strong with or without the puck, at both ends of the rink. He’s able to use his strength to hold onto the puck for longer spurts, allowing him to beat his opponent in battles for the puck.
McMann found the back of the net against Detroit in the second game of his career. However, it was unfortunately called back due to the puck being kicked by the 26-year-old before going off Olli Määttä and into the net.
His season was cut short, though, after suffering an injury against the New York Islanders back in mid-March. McMann did join the Marlies in their final game of the playoffs, but the 26-year-old struggled after only getting a couple of practices with the team.
There’ll be a lot of expectations for McMann, who’s entering the second and final year of his contract with Toronto. He’ll be given ample opportunity to make the opening-night lineup, and I believe if he plays his cards right, the 26-year-old will be in the NHL for a long time.

Nick Robertson’s quest to remain healthy

It’s been a disappointing last few years for Nick Robertson. Multiple injuries over multiple seasons have plagued what could’ve been a fascinating young career for the 21-year-old. The positive sign, though, is that Robertson is only 21, and there’s plenty of runway ahead of him.
Even if he’s only played 31 games, Robertson has looked good while up in the NHL with the Maple Leafs. Adding a bit more strength will push him in the right direction, as will staying healthy.
If Robertson can remain robust, there’s a fascinating season ahead for the 21-year-old. One that could see plenty of goals with the Maple Leafs next year.
Apr 27, 2023; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Matthew Knies (23) follows the action against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the first period in game five of the first round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

(More of) Matthew Knies’ strong play

There were plenty of us within the media who were wrong about Matthew Knies’ trajectory, including myself. A lot of people didn’t think the 20-year-old could step right into the Maple Leafs’ lineup and make a difference, especially at a level like the NHL.
But he did it, and matter of fact, he did it exceedingly well.
The 20-year-old had four points in seven playoff games before suffering a concussion in Game 2 against the Florida Panthers. His play — throughout every game he appeared in — appeared to grow stronger and stronger, while also building confidence in the process.
There’s an exciting future ahead for Knies in the NHL, and it’ll all begin next season. I know Connor Bedard will be in the league next year, but I believe Knies has a strong chance of being in the running for the Calder Trophy.

Joseph Woll and his emergence post-recovery

If there’s anyone who tilted heads this season with exceptional play, it was Joseph Woll. From his success at the AHL level to the accomplishments he made in the NHL, the 24-year-old has a bright season ahead of him.
Woll will likely be the Maple Leafs’ backup goaltender next season, playing behind Ilya Samsonov. The 24-year-old’s mindset, athleticism, skating, and positioning are all at the level of being ready to take the next step.
He even had a lot of success for Toronto in the playoffs, only allowing eight goals throughout the four games he appeared in. Woll, through 11 games at the NHL level in the regular season, has nine wins and a stellar .924 save percentage.
There should be a lot of excitement, and comfort, with Woll being the next Maple Leafs backup. He’ll be an important piece to the puzzle that is the future in Toronto.

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