Here we are just past the quarter mark of the season for the Leafs. It was a rough start, but they’ve truly followed it up with something wonderful, and now that we’re in a good place where the Leafs and playing well and we’re not yet to the point where we think about how that will look in the playoffs, we thought we’d take advantage of a happier Leafs audience and answer some questions…
Nick DeSouza: It might be a bit early to pencil Ho-Sang into next season’s lineup. Of course, lots can change by then but the forward roster should look pretty similar next year. Toronto currently has nine NHL forwards signed for next season; Matthews, Marner, Tavares, Nylander, Kerfoot, Ritchie, Kampf, Bunting, and Simmonds. To add to this, both Pierre Engvall and Ondrej Kase are RFA’s this offseason and are having pretty good starts to the season so far. Finally, a healthy Nick Robertson, Joey Anderson should also compete for a spot. Ho-Sang has been really good with the Marlies so far this season and it’s nice to see him succeed. Injuries happen and Ho-Sang is probably one of the first forwards on the Marlies to get a call up so I’m sure we will see him with the Leafs at some point this year.
Kyle Cushman: It’s far too early to make any assumptions about the Leafs roster construction for 2022/23, let alone a player not currently signed to an NHL contract. The main issue for Ho-Sang is where he fits into a potential Leafs lineup. He plays a position of depth for Toronto on the right wing and there isn’t any room on PP1. While there are plenty of scenarios where Ho-Sang can be a part of the Leafs roster into the future, I wouldn’t say we should assume he will be with the Leafs whatsoever.
Nick Barden: I would agree with the other two who’ve answered the question so far that it’s too early to assume where Josh Ho-Sang plays next year. But one thing I will say is that I don’t know if Ho-Sang will play for another organization. A lot would obviously have to play into that, but with what he’s said about being comfortable here and loving every second of it, I wouldn’t say he won’t be back next year. Personally, for me, I just don’t know if he’ll be on the Leafs to start next year.
Michael Mazzei: Never mind next year, when will be signed and brought up to the team this year? He has enough talent to warrant a look in the top nine in my opinion.
Scott Maxwell: I think there’s a reasonable chance he could be on the Leafs roster. They’ll be in even more of a cap crunch with Rielly’s contract on the books, so getting cheap depth that can score will be important, as we’ve seen these past few years. If he develops well in the AHL, and who knows, maybe even gets a chance in the NHL, it will definitely help his case. That said, 2022-23 is still a long time away, and we have no idea what the team will look like.
Nick Richard: There have been a lot of people clamouring to see Ho-Sang with the Leafs, and understandably so given some of the highlights he has stacked up in his short time with the Marlies, but I think your timeline is more realistic. As was alluded to already, it could come down to fit with Ho-Sang. There is no doubt that he has NHL caliber skill and some strong offensive instincts but he isn’t taking top-six minutes away from Marner or Nylander, and his game might not translate so well outside of an offensive role. It is important to remember that there have been a lot of successful AHL players who never nailed down an NHL job so a spot on the Leafs’ roster in the future is far from guaranteed for Ho-Sang. That said, he is taking advantage of his opportunity and doing everything he can to put himself in position to make it back to the NHL so I wouldn’t count him out.
Jon Steitzer: I feel like the Leafs should be trying to know what they have with Ho-Sang at a NHL level sooner rather than later, and the purpose of him being here from a Leafs perspective is putting him in a situation where he can give the Leafs a giant leap forward from what they expected to have in their lineup. I don’t know how we’d be able to assume that he can be a roster regular next year without playing him this season, so hopefully he gets a chance and I want to believe he can be a part of the Leafs forward group in the future.
Nick DeSouza: Liljegren has had an interesting development curve as he started playing professional hockey at a young age. It’s easy to forget that he is still only 22. On average, defensemen take longer to develop so it’s not impossible for Liljegren to become a #1 defenseman one day, although he will definitely have his work cut out for him. A fair projection seems to be a 3/4 defenseman who can potentially take on top competition at 5v5. Hockey Prospecting’s Projection Tool uses a player’s last four seasons and provides their likeliest comparable. For Liljegren the five closest comps are Ian White, Drake Berehowsky, Derek Morris, Mattias Ekholm, and Adam Larsson. The Leafs have been really patient with Liljegren so far and it’s allowed him to become a really well-rounded defenceman in comparison to the player he was in his draft year. With TJ Brodie, and Justin Holl signed there’s no need to elevate Liljegren up the lineup just yet. If Liljegren has any chance of becoming a true number one defenceman he will have to ease himself up the lineup. He’s winning his 3rd pairing minutes right now and is only 25 games into his NHL career (over three seasons) so there’s no rush.
Michael Mazzei: I don’t know if he will be the Leafs top defender one day, but he will definitely be one of their top blue liners once he reaches his peak.
Scott Maxwell: Obviously Liljegren still comes with that little bit of hope that he can develop into the player many saw when he was originally projected to go top 5 in 2017, but with each passing year that gets less and less likely. He’s still impressed me a lot this season, and while it’s mostly been against weak competition, it’s a good start, and bodes well for him maybe becoming a top 4 defenseman for the team. Becoming their best defenseman is pretty unlikely, but there’s still a good chance he becomes a steady NHLer.
Nick Richard: I think expectations for Liljegren need to be adjusted. He isn’t going to develop into the player he was projected to be ahead of his draft year but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a very good NHLer. Liljegren has played well when given the opportunity this season but he hasn’t been as perfect as some would have you believe, and that’s fine. There are going to be growing pains with young defensemen and the good has certainly outweighed the bad to this point but expecting, or even hoping, for Liljegren to become a number one guy is setting the bar too high. Realistically, if he grows into a reliable top-four blueliner, that will be a win for the Leafs.
Jon Steitzer: I hate to be an “anything is possible” jackass in my response, but right now we’ve seen that he can be solid on the third pairing, and there is some hope that by some point in the season that Sandin-Liljegren could act as a second pairing or at least handle a similar workload. I’m honestly not sure Liljegren (or Sandin for that matter) go beyond being solid second pairing guys you don’t mind using on the powerplay.
Kyle Cushman: Joseph Woll has been what you would expect given his Marlies history. He’s had flashes at the AHL level but has struggled with consistency and I think we saw a bit of that again in his debut against Buffalo compared to his shutout against the Islanders. Eventually you have to give the kids an opportunity. Michael Hutchinson is a fine third string goaltender, but it was time to give Woll a shot to see what he’s got. Ideally the third string won’t be needed the rest of the season, but when they do call upon a goaltender from the Marlies, I would expect it to be Woll at this point.
In terms of his ceiling, Woll had a strong resume coming out of college but has struggled to find that consistency with the Marlies. Keeping things realistic, I can see Woll developing into a backup at the NHL level. We’ve seen multiple examples of young goaltenders with mediocre numbers in the AHL stepping up to the NHL and succeeding (Hart, Blackwood, Petersen come to mind), but I need to see more from Woll before putting his future prospects any higher than a potential backup role.
Nick Barden: The opportunity that Joseph Woll brings is two things. It first allows you to see what you have in your goaltending crop. Two, it puts you at ease when you know that there won’t be a time where if you don’t need him anymore, he won’t have to go on waivers. I think he’s developing into an NHL goalie, and has come a long way. However, I also think he still has a little ways to go. In terms of Michael Hutchinson, he’s still a massive part of this organization. Every player loves him, and I don’t think he’s lost any right of being the Leafs third goalie. There’s just a lot of options right now.
Michael Mazzei: Woll has played well all things considered and has filled in nicely with Mrazek once again on the shelf. It’s been a long time coming for him given the last few seasons have been riddled with injury trouble. But nothing beats a huge boost in confidence, and getting your first two career wins with one of them being a shutout definitely helps. At the very least, he has moved up the depth charts and will help make the potential loss of Jack Campbell sting less.
Meanwhile, Michael Hutchinson remains an interesting case and it doesn’t hurt to have him remain in the organization, even if it’s just with the Marlies. Much like Rich Clune has made such a difference with the AHL squad, Hutchinson could do the same and be a mentor for the likes of Woll, Ian Scott, and others. I think it’s now become a 3A/3B situation for the Leafs third string netminder with Woll impressing in his first NHL stint.
Scott Maxwell: It’s far from certainty, especially because goalies are voodoo and it’s only been two games, but he’s looked solid so far, especially with his steady performance on Sunday against the Islanders which could have gone south quickly considering the history with them and the Leafs. Goalies are tough to project so it’s hard to see what his ceiling, but I think a solid backup is probably a reasonable projection.I wouldn’t say Hutch has lost the spot more so that Woll has earned more opportunities up to this point. If he starts to falter down the road, I’d say Hutch gets the 3rd goalie spot back, as they won’t want to feed Woll to the wolves if he isn’t ready. Hutch was always supposed to be insurance at both the NHL and AHL level, so he still kind of remains in that spot right now.
Jon Steitzer: Honestly, there’s not much point to using Hutchinson again at the NHL level unless Woll and Kallgren are either hurt or sharply decline where the Leafs wouldn’t rather take a look at them. As far as upside for Woll, good luck when it comes to goaltenders. He could be playing in the Italian Elite League next season or on his way to becoming the next Tretiak.
Here’s more on Woll:
Michael Mazzei: Judging by the fact he’s included in the marketing campaign for Lululemon and he’s been playing fairly well to begin the season, it’s not out of the question for him to be in consideration for one of four centre spots. Now whether the Canadian team will actually be in China is another question entirely, but as it stands now Tavares seems like he has a good shot of at least being on the roster.
Scott Maxwell: He’s already been modeling some of team Canada’s gear, it’s pretty safe to assume he’ll be on the squad, especially with his reputation and experience. Plus, he’s already been robbed of Olympic experiences with an injury in 2014 and the NHL not participating in 2018, so I think the team wants to give him the shot to actually play a full tournament.
Jon Steitzer: While the experience with the Olympics and Hockey Canada, as well as his modeling make a case for Tavares, it’s probably also worth noting that Tavares is 100% a Team Canada selection on present season merit as well as he’s one of the top Canadian scorers in the NHL at the moment. It also makes good sense that Hockey Canada lean into the idea of selecting players who play in Canada’s largest market as game start times are going to require a more invested viewer. I wouldn’t be surprised to see players from Canadian teams or large market American teams prioritized this go around.
Here’s more on Tavares and probable Olympians:
Kyle Cushman: The addition of Kyle Clifford really limits the likelihood of Kurtis Gabriel suiting up for the Leafs this season. Toronto now has Wayne Simmonds AND Kyle Clifford as players they can go to if they want a more physical element to their lineup. It’s not impossible Gabriel still gets into a game at some point this season (Scott Sabourin got one last year), but Clifford’s addition will limit the opportunity for Gabriel to get the call up. If I were to put a percentage on it, I would say less than a 20% chance Gabriel plays for the Leafs this season.
Nick Barden: The Leafs should’ve already gotten a dog. They’re missing out.
I wouldn’t say the chances are low, but they’re not high either. There are a lot of players who are sort of in front of him in the line to the Leafs. However, he brings a totally different game than anyone I’ve seen in terms of his physicality. I think that can be used at some point for Toronto, and if there’s one player who can provide an overload of it, it’s Kurtis Gabriel.
Jon Steitzer: Given the history of the Leafs I truly fear for any dog brought into the organization. Maybe the Leafs can start out with something simple like a team goldfish and they prove they aren’t completely cursed they can have a team guinea pig by the end of the year.
As for as job openings are concerned, we definitely have a large number of contributors at the moment, but that doesn’t mean that future opportunities are out of the question. Feel free to follow up with me.
So closes the Quarter mark mailbag. If you have any questions for future mailbags, hit us up on twitter or drop some questions in the comments below.