The pre-season is a good time to see the skills of up-and-coming players on each team. In particular, the Toronto Maple Leafs have young players trying to prove that they have what it takes to be in the NHL on one of the most watched teams in the league.
Nazem Kadri is one of those players. He was drafted seventh overall in 2009, and despite all the hype about his playing abilities, he hasn’t performed to the level that the Leafs’ management would like. It’s likely that he will get sent to the Marlies, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Kadri is a top-six forward and sending him to the AHL means he’ll get experience playing as a top-six forward, rather than playing on the third or fourth line for the Leafs.
Instead, Tyler Bozak will probably be the top forward this season. He has excellent faceoff percentages and has more experience than Kadri when it comes to playing in the NHL. His raw talent isn’t as high as Kadri’s, but Bozak is more reliable at the moment, and the management is much more likely to value reliability over occasional excellence, especially when it comes to the first line.
Luca Caputi is also a player who shone in the pre-season. He wants to be a power forward, something that showed in his effort this summer to bulk up. He had an excellent pre-season so far, but it is unclear as to whether or not it will be enough for him to stay on the team. Fredrik Sjostrom is likely to take his place on the third line instead now that his shoulder seems to have healed from the surgery that he underwent in the spring. Even though Caputi is physically larger than Sjostrom, Sjostrom is faster, which is a good fit for right winger Colby Armstrong. The third line is likely to have either Tim Brent or John Mitchell in the middle of it. Brent, 27, was drafted 75th overall in 2004. He played amazingly this pre-season. Mitchell, 25, is a reliable veteran who can stabilize his line. He has played for the Leafs for the past two seasons, and has three years of AHL experience under his belt.
The Leafs’ powerplay has improved this pre-season, with the trio of Kris Versteeg, Phil Kessel, and Dion Phaneuf scoring many of the Leafs’ powerplay goals. In addition, the defence has a huge depth and the goaltending looks solid with Jonas Gustavsson and veteran J.S. Giguere between the pipes.
The addition of Phaneuf to the team back in January led to more stability for the Leafs. Phaneuf is a leader, prompting the Leafs’ management to name him captain of the team.
This should settle down the team during difficult games and pull them together.
The Leafs were 5-3-1 in the pre-season, with wins against the Sens (twice), the Sabres, the Flyers and Detroit.
Diehard Leafs fans can look forward to the start of the season this Thursday, October 7, when the Leafs will take on the Montréal Canadiens, in what they hope will not be a repeat of last season’s game.