The preseason is over. The roster is set-ish. We are back to a nice clean slate where almost anything is possible (a playoff season falls into the exclusions.) With that fresh start, we’re gonna restart the Player Power Rankings this week as well. No “Last Week’s Rankings”, those were preseason rankings. This is all about the 82 games that matter (again, we’ll assume playoffs aren’t happen). And our journey starts now on ranking the players who will lead the charge to the draft lottery.
1. Morgan Rielly
If you ask anyone why they still plan on watching the Leafs this year, almost every answer will include some curiosity over whether or not Rielly can improve and become a true top pairing defender, rather than one who purely has that role based on situation.
That’s gonna be a pretty tall order for a kid who will be going head to head against some of the best competition, and has a pretty poor supporting cast. It seems likely that this will be a tough year statistically for Morgan, but with his raw talent I’m hoping we get some exciting glimpses into what the Leafs defense of the future will look like.
— PengellyInk (@pengellyink) October 4, 2015
2. Jake Gardiner
I really like Jake Gardiner, and by listing him second on the team heading into the regular season that should be fairly obvious. I think his speed will help the Leafs in 3 on 3 OT, and possibly inflate the team’s record. I think he’s one of the most offensively gifted defensemen in the league and I’m excited to see him use those skills.
That being said, I agree that there are still some major issues in Jake’s game when it comes to play away from the puck. I miss when we could say that “he struggles defensively,” but that shorthand has been taken from us (thanks stats revolution.) Instead there are issues with him not being aggressive on the puck carriers and being caught out of position in his own end.
I think with proper coaching we’ll see improvements, and the fact that Babcock relied on Gardiner as a workhouse throughout the preseason is encouraging.
3. Nazem Kadri
It looks like we are finally entering the era where the Leafs most talented center will be the first line center, and through the preseason Kadri seemed to be up to the task. His game already looks more complete than we’ve seen in previous seasons and looks like he’ll actually get his pick on linemates, so the 39 point season should be a thing of the past.
With two young potential centers in Nylander and Marner on the way, it will be interesting to see how Kadri keeps himself in the long term picture. Odds are one of Marner and Nylander will potentially wind up on the wing, but now that Kadri has finally grabbed the 1C spot, I doubt that he’ll want to be usurped from that role as early as the 2016-17 season.
Babcock singled out the performance of Nazem Kadri as a player who impressed him most tonight. #TMLtalk
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) October 4, 2015
4. James van Riemsdyk
Along with Kadri, JVR is the answer to the question, “where are the points going to come from?” This seems like a reasonable expectation of someone the Leafs can comfortably count on for around 30 goals a year. What he’s lost in Kessel he’s gained in not having Bozak as center (hopefully) and with his linemates looking for him more often than not, he’s a good bet for a career year.
5. Scott Harrington
I’m probably reaching by having Scott Harrington 5th here, but I was also probably reaching when I had Scott Harrington ranked 4th in the TLN Prospect Rankings.
Bottom line is that I believe that Harrington’s smart defensive game is something the Leafs have lacked since the departure of Francois Beauchemin, and getting Harrington into the lineup and gaining experience is the first step in erasing that deficit.
6. Jonathan Bernier
This team is gonna be a mess, especially at first, and while I’m still not 100% convinced that Bernier is the guiding light that will lead the Leafs to the promise land down the road, but for now I’m gonna agree with our resident goaltending expert, and say Bernier’s got to be the starter.
7. Daniel Winnik
At some point over the summer I began to consider Daniel Winnik the Leafs third best forward. I’m really not sure if this is true, or if he just appeals to my love of jack of all trades, master of none type players. Winnik is a nice, low risk player who will spend the year residing in the middle part of the Leafs lineup. We’ll probably never complain about him and that’s probably good enough to be 7th on the Leafs rankings.
8. Michael Grabner
Michael Grabner is a player that my optimism loves. He has speed, skill, and can play in any situation. Of course, he hasn’t seen a lot of ice time in recent years, lacks the ability to finish, and wasn’t a stand out player in the preseason.
Of course, when someone has put up 30 goals in the past there’s always hope that the player can rediscover their game. I’m gonna temper my expectations a bit and hope for a possible 15-20 goal season out of Grabner.
Leafs pre-season scoring leaders
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) October 4, 2015
9. Martin Marincin
It’s strange, but I’m far more excited about the Leafs defense this year than I am about the offense. It’s probably because there are younger players who have a better chance of being a part of the Leafs future on blueline.
Marincin has had a bit of a slow start in the preseason, not unlike the one he had with the Oilers last season, but his no frills, responsible game should hopefully take shape soon. There always seems to be a large learning curve when a defenseman joins a new team, and since all the defense are new to the coaching staff I assume there are going to be some struggles.
10. Dion Phaneuf
We’ll shift gears and focus on the resident grey beard of the blueline (I’m choosing to believe that Robidas will be waived or live in the press box). Phaneuf in a lesser role might be beneficial to all, though it doesn’t change the fact that we’ll all continued to be annoyed by his cap hit.
I don’t have any grand and glorious dreams that the Leafs will get out from under Phaneuf’s contract, but I am at least excited that players might be used according to their abilities, and not assigned roles based on their salary.
11. James Reimer
Reimer had the better preseason of the two Leafs goaltenders and that should be enough to shorten the leash on Bernier, but it’s probably not good enough to give Reimer back the net on a regular basis. Despite all the new faces, it seems like there is a commitment to Bernier or a need to move on from both goaltenders.
It seems likely this will be Reimer’s curtain call in Toronto, hopefully he finds his way to a contending team over the course of the year.
Leafs pre-season goaltending
James Reimer .910 sv% (187 mins)
Jonathan Bernier .882 sv% (208 mins)
Opening night starter TBA
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) October 4, 2015
12. Marc Arcobello
Arcobello’s 17 goals last season and above average performance in training camp probably mean we need to stop thinking of him as the next guy who is about to be waived by the Leafs.
Right now it almost seems reasonable to consider Arcobello the Leafs second line center. Wait it is completely reasonable, Bozak has shown again and again he isn’t very good, and Peter Holland hasn’t exactly grabbed the role.
Unfortunately for Arcobello he’ll probably be stuck at the bottom of the depth chart for a little while until the Leafs have exhausted any attempts to get offense out of Bozak, and Holland, but at least Arcobello doesn’t mind waiting. He just seems to mind waivers.
13. Brad Boyes
In what was probably the smartest decision of the past month, the Leafs signed Brad Boyes off his tryout contract. He’s instantly gone from wondering if he has a job in the NHL to being a lock for the Leafs top six. It’s funny how things work out.
— Dan Ninkovich (@DeejBTNL) October 1, 2015
14. Peter Holland
Fun fact. I’m not completely sold on Peter Holland. In fact, I don’t think he’s been very good at all and think the Holland experiment will end at some point.
Another fun fact is that I’m often wrong, and there is nothing more I would like than for the Leafs to have another center that can be part of their future plans.
15. Matt Hunwick
It looks like Matt Hunwick is the next contestant to see who can be blamed for Dion Phaneuf not living up to his contract. Unlike previous contestants Korbinian Holzer, and Mike Kostka, Hunwick is:
A) a better hockey player
B) not having to do this while playing on the top line
Based on training camp, I can’t say for sure what I think about Hunwick, but that’s probably a good thing because I normally jump to decisions quickly when I don’t like someone.
16. P.A. Parenteau
Honestly I shouldn’t have Parenteau this low, but I don’t feel like going back and revisiting my reasons for the others. I just often forget that Parenteau is here. He hasn’t been bad and I think preseason NHL competition is just the right level for him to compete at, but I sure hope he’s still got enough left to try and make a difference in the regular season too.
17. Leo Komarov
Komarov shouldn’t have any trouble continuing to adequately performing a bottom six role on a bottom team in the league.
18. Nick Spaling
For all the same reasons as Komarov. At this point the rankings are just about being spiteful to Joffrey Lupul, Richard Panik, and Shawn Matthias who I am aggressively trying to keep out of the top 20.
19. Roman Polak
Roman is doing the right thing and taking his place in the press box as the 7th defenseman.
20. Shawn Matthias
As much as I wanted to exclude him because of his horrible preseason, I can’t make a case for Lupul, Panik, or Bozak being a head of him. I guess it comes down to hope once again, hope that Matthias will at least find somewhat of a groove as low cycling winger and that if the lines aren’t run through too many blenders, that he’ll add value to one of the Leafs centers who are desperate need of a reliable winger.