It has been pretty much been set in stone since before Christmas that Toronto will face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the upcoming playoffs. Kyle Dubas went out and brought in reinforcements to help the core of this roster while only moving Rasmus Sandin and Pierre Engvall off of the NHL roster. With almost all the heavy lifting done by management to remodel this roster, exception being the impending signing of top prospect Matthew Knies. Head coach Sheldon Keefe has been experimenting with various line ups to determine the best fits for the new players as well as get all of them acclimated with their new club and systems. Much like Keefe, it’s time to put on our architect hats on to construct various line ups that the Maple Leafs may deploy come playoff time. Take in consideration these line ups are based on a fully healthy roster.
Option #1: Balanced Line up
Bunting – Matthews – Nylander
Jarnkrok – Tavares – Marner
Knies – O’Rielly – Kerfoot
Aston-Reese – Accairi – Kampf
Rielly – Brodie
McCabe – Liljegren
Giordano – Holl
Scratches: Lafferty, McMann, Simmonds, Schenn, Gustafsson, Timmins
This line up would provide Toronto a three headed monster down the middle up front, complimented by a solid hard nosed shutdown fourth line. Lengthening the line up this way take some of the onus off the top two lines. Having Knies on the third line would allow him to be somewhat sheltered and eased in to some degree. while also given a legimate top six center in O’Rielly to play alongside. Matthew Knies has been a much talked about player in Leafs Nation. There has been a lot speculation that once his NCAA season is over he will sign on with Toronto. Expectations should be tapered for his arrival. But it’s hard to not imagine the possibilities given the fanfare that he will come with. Knies has put up some highlight reel plays. In 36 game played with the University of Minnesota. The 6’2, 210lbs power foward has scored 21 goals along with 20 assists good for 41 points. He was also a +26. Having this third line as laid out will create another threat that the opposition will have to find ways to contain. Even the way the fourth line is constructed it is capable of chipping in as well.
Meanwhile on the back end, this is a fairly familiar set up as Keefe has deployed. Rielly being paired with Brodie allows him to be the rover to help pinch when opportunity arises. Also there is the familiarity factor. McCabe and Liljegren would likely be leaned on as more of a shutdown pairing. Will Gio and Holl would also be tasked to be a secondary shutdown pairing in a more sheltered situation. Murray would be the game one start, if he were to falter then Sammy could easy step in going forward.
Option #2: Top Heavy
O’Rielly – Matthews – Marner
Knies – Tavares – Nylander
Bunting – Accairi – Jarnkrok
Lafferty – Kampf – Kerfoot
Rielly – Brodie
McCabe – Schenn
Giordano – Liljegren
Scratches: ZAR, McMann, Simmonds, Holl, Gustafsson, Timmins
In this example Knies is elevated onto the second line along side Tavares and Nylander. His size, skill and ability would work well with JT and Willy. It would provide a different dynamic and offensively an upgrade over the likes of a Jarnkrok. Also given his ability to throw his weight around may also help create space for crafty line mates. Moving O’Rielly to the top line would also do the same for Mitch and Auston. O’Rielly could be the one that does the dirty work to open up the ice for his line mates to work their magic and cause the opposition nightmares.
Loading up the top two lines forces Jarnkrok and Bunting down the line up which isn’t necessarily bad. However being as top heavy as depicted leaves them more susceptible to being thwarted offensively which thus in turn would cause the bottom six to be expected to offset the offence. By no means is that an indictment of the bottom six, however it may be asking a bit much. Swapping ZAR for Lafferty provides a slight upgrade offensively but not by much. With this line up format it clear indicates top six offence first and a defense first bottom six.
On the back end the I have subbed Justin Holl out and replaced him with Luke Schenn. I’ve paired him with Jake McCabe to be a hard nosed shut down pairing. The hard nosed style of both will make life miserable. The Rielly/Brodie pairing remains intact and Liljegren would slide down to the third pairing with Gio. This pairing has been as good as any when put together. Gio has done wonders in helping the growth and development of Lily. They have proven to be a great defensive pairing that can not be underestimated for offensive abilities. Once again arguments can be made for either Murray or Samsonov to be the starter. Both in my eyes have earned the opportunity to start in the playoffs for Toronto.
Options #3: The 11/7 Format
Knies – Matthews – Marner
Jarnkrok – Tavares – Nylander
Bunting – O’Rielly – Accairi
Kerfoot – Kampf
Rielly – Liljegren
McCabe – Brodie
Giordano – Schenn
Scratches: Lafferty, ZAR, McMann, Simmonds, Holl, Timmins
This is a hybrid line up format has been utilize to some extent by coach Keefe since the deadline. Personally, unless there is some significant injuries up front I would not utilize this 11-7 line up. However if this is format the Leafs decided to go with, I have constructed a line up that would elevate Matthew Knies to the top line alongside Mitch and Auston. Also maintaining the three prong attack as O’Rielly would center the third line with Bunting and Accairi on his wings. That line has the potential to cause some pains for the opposition in a multitude of ways.
The fourth line would be a mix and match given situations. For this example I’ve dressed Kerfoot and Kampf as both have shown previously that they are capable contributors in the post season. On defense I would have Gustafsson and Schenn as the sixth and seventh D-man that would rotate with one another on the third pairing with Gio. Holl would be the odd man out once again in this scenario. Given this format, I have Lily paired with Rielly on the top pair allowing Brodie to slide into the second pairing with McCabe to be the shutdown pairing against the opposing top players. Gustafsson’s role will mainly be more on the offensive side. He is an option to quarterback the powerplay. While Schenn would be utilized more for defense or when some size and grit are required.
With 10 games remaining in the regular season, Toronto still has time to tinker with potential line ups. There is plenty of opportunity to experiment to figure what works and doesn’t. Also they await the conclusion of the NCAA season so they can officially put pen to paper with Matthew Knies. As eluded to prior, the expectations for him need to remain tapered as to expect a collegiate player to step in and be difference maker is a hefty task. Although from what I seen of him don’t rule out the possibility if he is on this roster and playing that he has the ability to be a game changer. He possesses the skill set to do so. It’ll just be a matter if he can translate that into success as a pro.
Keefe is making the most of the opportunities he has right now to test out different formats and personnel to utilize as he prepares for what hopes to be a deep playoff run. Unlike years previous this roster is the deepest that we’ve seen even if Matthew Knies is not part of the equation. Now the task is finding out what works best. I have laid out some viable options here. Some in which we may see a variation of at some point. The coaching staff is already hard at work behind closed doors building potential line ups to dispatch. Barring any major unforeseen circumstances Keefe will have more weapons at his disposal then ever before. The key is now to find the best ways to use them.
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