With game one of the 2017/2018 season tomorrow, the team announced its opening day roster on Monday and there were not any real surprises once the roster was released. A lot of tough decisions were made as preseason standouts Miro Aaltonen, Kasperi Kapanen, Travis Dermott and Nikita Soshnikov were sent down to the Marlies, all victims of the Maple Leafs depth. The process behind these difficult cuts was to protect players like Josh Leivo, who would need to clear waivers if sent down to the Marlies which makes him vulnerable to a rival team claiming him.
As for the line formations, there also does not appear to be many surprises. Auston Matthews will centre the number one line with William Nylander and Zach Hyman. During preseason, Matthews and Nylander picked up where they left off last season. There is an undeniable chemistry on the ice and the success witnessed in the preseason bolds well for what is to come in their sophomore seasons as the Maple Leafs most dynamic duo.
Hyman once again finds himself on the top line however, he will need to improve his offensive numbers if he plans to stay here all season. With some in the media and fan base dreaming of a top line consisting of Matthews, Nylander and Patrick Marleau, this is may come to pass as coach Mike Babcock may need to shuffle the lines if Hyman cannot find the back of the net.
The second line will see familiar faces from last year. Tyler Bozak will be playing centre and both James Van Riemsdyk and Mitch Marner will be on his wings. This line developed some quick chemistry last season and as Marner continues to grow and develop, I would expect to see similar, if not better results this season.
The third line will be led by Nazem Kadri at centre. Skating on his line will be Leo Komarov and new comer, Patrick Marleau. This line offers the Maple Leafs a mix of grit and offensive flare, and is probably one of the best third lines in all of the NHL. I would expect big things from this line as they grow chemistry and familiarity on the ice as the season progresses.
The fourth line will have a platoon at centre with both Eric Fehr and Dominic Moore making the opening day roster. Depending on who wins the fourth line centre role between Fehr and Moore, they will have Matt Martin and Connor Brown on their wings. There is a great mix of veteran leadership on this line. Brown will offer an offensive threat on this line with his speed and strong forecheck, so I expect this line will be able to produce.
On defense the top four also appear to be set in stone. Morgan Reilly will play with veteran Ron Hainsey on the top pairing, with Jake Gardiner slotting in on the second pairing with Nikita Zaitsev. Connor Carrick will skate alongside Andreas Borgman to start the season but expect to see changes if the rookie Borgman struggles early.
One burning question heading into the season is can the Maple Leafs leverage their depth on forwards to complete a trade to bring in a top 4 defencemen to solidify the backend? This final piece could catapult this team into the next tier of Stanley Cup threat should they be able to flip some of their high end forward prospects to pick up a top four defenceman.
As for goaltending, Frederik Andersen will be asked to carry the heavy workload this season. Baring any injuries, I would not be surprised to see him play a little more than last season, with the exception on back to back games where Babcock likes to split these games between both goalies.
Concerns do remain if Andersen does go down with injury long term, can McElhinney step in on a full-time basis to help this team stay competitive for what most predict will be the year the Maple Leafs challenge for the division title. Time will tell, but I suspect the organization will be doing their due diligence to bring some insurance in to shore up their goaltending for a real run at the division title.
Tomorrow the Maple Leafs open the season on the road against the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets led by Patrik Laine will want to get the early win and start their season off strong. As there could be changes in Winnipeg if they start the year struggling. So, the Maple Leafs will need to come out strong, if they plan to pocket a couple of early season points in the standings. So get out your jerseys if you haven’t already as the 2017/2018 season is upon us and let’s paint Toronto Blue and White! GO LEAFS GO!