The first blog discussed all the changes in management and the effects on the culture, drafting and development that should help this franchise turn a corner more sooner than later with the new exciting group of prospects Sheldon Keefe and Mike Babcock have at their disposal.
Part two, I want to discuss the players (prospects & current roster players). However it is easy to name off the likes of Mathews, Marner, Nylander & company than express how exciting times will be. But I want to tackle this topic from a different angle.
For so long the roster has felt like a mismatch of players, who were than playing in roles that were above their skill set. Bozak, Phanuef, Kessel all good players, all maligned by the local media and fans for their obvious and not so obvious limitations to their individual games. These players were destined to fail, previous administrations tried to sell these players as oranges when they were apples. Nothing wrong with a good apple, but they don’t have the sweetness and punch as an orange.
Than when you look at the draft records under John Ferguson Jr., Brian Burke, than Dave Nonis you will see where the Leafs problems started. Than you factor in trades and how the above players weren’t insulated than you will see a pattern of failed attempts and cover-ups to make this a roster work when they had no chance of doing so. These players and others didn’t fail us fans, the administration failed the fans and the players. The roster from a couple of years ago resembled the confusion of having one foot in a rebuild and the other in the win now mentality.
Today we see a plan, players are coming in and filling spots at their skill level and no one is expected to do more than they can. With the addition of Mathews for example will mean that eventually Kadri be in the 2nd line centre spot which is more to his skill set and ability and he should begin to flourish more so than we have seen. If still with the Leafs, Bozak will go down to the 3rd line centre position, Once again if your team has a Bozak type player in the 3rd than your roster is starting to compete.
Players like Mathews, Marner, and Nylander in the past would have been sold as the saviors of this franchise and placed on the first line to completely shoulder the failings of 50 years of losing. This year, Babcock has already expressed that Mathews will start the year on the third line, and move up if his game takes off. Nylander, Soshnikov, Marner, Brown, Hyman all potentially making the opening day roster all going to be slotted to best maximize their develop and skill sets. There is no better coach than Babcock in place to isolate these prospects and make sure that they are in roles where they can succeed and grow as NHLers.
Now look at the last couple of drafts under Hunter and his scouts, Last year’s draft saw the Leafs draft for skill. It didn’t matter size, they drafted the best player available to them at their pick. This year saw the Leafs drafted for size to fill out what is by all accounts a smaller group of prospects from the year before and you see the closing of holes in a prospect pool that was completely empty of anything before Hunter and company came in.
The roster reflects the plan in place by the management team, you almost feel that there is a check list in place that highlights key points of the Shanna plan and with each decision each box is getting checked. Nothing is ever guaranteed as mentioned in my first post, but we can be excited and more hopeful in the plan as it goes into action from the white board in the Leafs front office board room and is now reflected in the on ice roster. This plan Leaf fans, we can believe in!