The Mailbag took a week off due to last Monday’s trade deadline, but we’re back! The Leafs have been a different kind of wacky, wild beast in the past two weeks, and your questions reflect that. Let’s jump right in!
@ahurst11 asked: Do you think there will be any international or junior signings this offseason for the Leafs? Like Nikita Soshnikov was for them, or Dryden Hunt for Florida?
The Leafs will likely be looking at these type of signings every season moving forward; asset management is key and if you believe that you can make a substantial upgrade to your organization for a low opportunity cost, why not do it? The Leafs are no doubt doing research involving every league of significance to find talent.
As for whether there are players available this year that are worth it, that remains to be decided. There haven’t been many guys who have been heavily rumoured just yet, but judging by the Leafs’ attempts in the prior season to sign whoever they could to SPCs or even AHL deals, you’d expect that there will be at least one more int he coming months.
@DTSB_98 asked: Where do you see Nikita Zaitsev playing next year, the NHL or AHL?
Definitely in the NHL. Zaitsev was arguably a top-five defenceman in the KHL last season and easily the best rearguard on CSKA Moscow, who are one of the league’s powerhouses. He’s physically mature, he’s going to be 25 years old in late October, and the numbers show he’s a great talent in the world’s second best league; don’t be shocked if he’s performing well playing top-four minutes next year.
Connor Leggott asked: Should we be worried about the Marlies’ success and the development of their young players with half of the club being called up to the Leafs? First the deadline day callups and now Leipsic – who’s left on the #1 AHL team?
While it’s easy to panic after a three-game losing streak, I don’t think there’s much need to worry. Teams need to have this type of adversity to succeed; it’s better to have it now than crash and burn in the playoffs. It also gives some of the secondary talent a little bit more room to experiment and improve themselves, which is better for them in the long term than winning a few more games when they’ve already all but clinched a playoff spot. Besides, when you have the likes of Connor Brown, Colin Smith, Mark Arcobello, Josh Leivo, Tobias Lindberg, TJ Brennan, and a bunch of other legitimately interesting players, it’s hard to believe that your floor is going to be that bad.
@matthew_gooding asked: Can Colin Smith work his way into the NHL? He is putting up good point totals but his NHL window is getting small.
It’s definitely possible. Smith is still just 22 years old, and he’s produced more than respectable numbers in his AHL career to date. He shows the tenacity that scouts love, and his numbers match the hype right now, with seven points in seven games. The only thing that might be in his path is the fact that the Leafs have a lot of secondary prospects competing for spots, but if he seems NHL ready and his only issue is a log-jam, teams will come calling for him.
@ChewieD23 asked: Should the Leafs resign Matt Frattin and TJ Brennan this summer?
Brennan should be seen as an organizational core piece, as weird as that sounds. While he’s at the age where his NHL window, for better or worse, has essentially closed, he brings a lot of value to the organization by being a leader, role model, and dominant AHL player for the Marlies. Ideally, you sign him to a record-breaking AHL one-way deal to free up the contact, but you don’t say no to an SPC if that’s the difference in keeping him.
As for Frattin, I’m indifferent. He served a purpose last year when the team was restocking its cupboards, but at this point, he’s a secondary piece on the Marlies that is unlikely to get an NHL call-up or even get top-line minutes in the AHL with better, younger players in front of him. Frattin has made commendable efforts for the organization that should be acknowledged, but as the blueprint begins to unfold, he’s becoming a redundancy that’s aged past expiry.