As discussed on the latest episode of The Rival Sports Podcast, the Leafs have a solid group of prospects who could impact the big league team. As Chicago showed us through their dynastic cup runs, the big boys getting paid means you have to have stocked cupboards of discount players to fill out your roster.
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Here are our top two picks each on who we think will crack the Leafs opening day roster:
The most dynamic forward on the Marlies right now, Jeremy Bracco was an obvious but needed pick for this list. The American winger fits in with what the Leafs need on their current roster as the skillful winger tends to set up more goals than he finishes. With the Leafs current star center depth, this is a big positive.
The critics will say he is too small, or that the Leafs, in general, are too small and Bracco just adds to this problem. Mitch Marner has proved how moot a point this is with his ridiculous start to his career at a measly 6′ (yeah, okay), 175 lbs. At 5′ 11″ and 181 lbs, Bracco is essentially a carbon copy of Marner physically.
Bracco is basically Marner-lite; a newer, younger copy of the original albeit probably not as elite offensively (it’s a high bar!). The 22-year-old is seemingly ready for the NHL after two seasons with the Marlies. He smashed his first season’s point total, 32 points in 50 games, with 79 points in 75 games this season. After his two seasons and two playoff runs with the Marlies, isn’t it time to plug some Leafs roster holes with this gem?
Prediction: Top-9 winger
The equivalent to Jeremy Bracco, as far as positional prospect rankings, Timothy Lijegren appears to be knocking on the NHL’s door. The 6’0, 200lb Swedish, RIGHT SHOT defenseman has put up two solid seasons with the Marlies after being drafted and could make the jump this offseason to the Leafs.
The Leafs scooped up the fallen draftee in 2017 after illness marred his draft year. His development was a little stunted due to this, however, it has forced the once offensive-minded defender to focus more on the defensive side of his game and develop into a two-way player. Playing alongside 2018 first-round pick, Rasmus Sandin, an elite scoring defenseman has also reigned in his play, too!
Liljegren’s solid play last season after a bad start to the season should get him consideration come training camp time this fall. That being said, the Leafs need for right-shot defenseman should also see his name shoot up the list of breakout candidates.
Prediction: bottom pairing defenseman
They must have signed him for some reason, right? The Leafs first international signee during the World Hockey Championships was this scoring winger out of the KHL. Ilya Mikheyev, 24, has played four regular seasons with Omsk Avangard of the KHL, growing in offensive production along the way. With a total of 45 points in 62 games last season split with 23 goals and 22 assists, Mikheyev‘s scoring prowess is shared across goals and assists.
At 6’ 2″ and 190lbs Mikheyev also adds a size dimension to a shorter Leafs roster. People are forecasting him as a replacement for Auston Matthews rightwing should one or both of Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen be moved. With Matthews elite shot and Mikheyev‘s (reportedly) silky passing, the fit could work.
I revert back to my first sentence on Mikheyev. Dubas, Shanahan, and Babcock must have signed this player for a reason. At 24 (much like Zaitsev) the Leafs would be banking on him to hit the ground running as he isn’t a young prospect anymore. Surely he’ll get a look to start the season, no?
Prediction: top-9 forward
Let me say it again, they must have signed him for a reason. To be fair, Teemu Kivihalme is probably going to be a depth player, but the lack of defensive depth currently on the team could see him play a more important role and originally believed.
Despite him being a left shot defenseman, and the Leafs already having Rielly, Muzzin, and Rosen filling their top-3 left shot D positions, Kivihalme could see some platoon work. Rosen has just 8 games of NHL experience over two different stints with the team; his headstart on Kivihalme is minimal. Rather than overwhelming Rosen and Kivihalme, Babcock could use both and create a battle for that bottom pairing spot.
With Travis Dermott also in the left D mix, despite his shoulder injury which will keep him out for the beginning of the season, Kivihalme still has a potential position. Left shot/right shot is a bit overanalyzed and if both Rosen and Kivihalme show they can play, why not stick them together?
Prediction: 7th defenceman-bottom pairing
We want to know: Who do you agree with, Al or Adam? Did we miss out on anyone else? Let us know on Social Media or in the comments below!