When I took over the reigns of TLN earlier this week, I promised that things would be a little bit different; a different kind of creative, another kind of collaborative. This week, the Roundtable gets the 2.0 treatment, going in a little bit of a different direction.
The old roundtable was excellent; we’d all chime in with some wonderful thoughts, and every so often got into a good argument about it. But it was the same crew every week; when you read all of our posts every day, hearing our thoughts gets a little tiring.
So we’ve decided to branch out to a few of our frenemies. Pension Plan Puppets and LeafsHub, two blogs that are stylistically quite different from us and drastically different from each other, will be lending a representative to us every week to give their take. In future weeks, we’ll be branching out to other members of the Toronto Hockey community, whether they’re bloggers, media members, or resident experts on a topic.
Oh, right, and the question. Today, we’re talking about which Leafs-associated player we’re most excited to see at the World Championships. Let’s dive in!
Ryan Hobart (New to TLN)
This is may be an off the board pick, but mine is Leo Komarov. For me, he was the most exciting part of the overall 2015-16 season for the Maple Leafs. Being named to the All-Star game to represent the Maple Leafs was a deserving accolade for the season he was putting on at the time. And in kind, being named to this Finland roster is even more deserving.
Komarov brings a gritty game you don’t often see in international play, and that’s why he’s my “most excited to see”. His style of game is so disruptive and unnatural in comparison to the majority of international play. His scoring comes and goes, but I’ll be looking for it to come around with such an offensively talented Finland team. All in all, I’ll be looking forward to each and every Finnish game to see Uncle Leo throw his weight around, and maybe throw some pucks into the net.
Scott Wheeler (Pension Plan Puppets)
When preliminary rosters were announced, this year’s World Championship looked like it was shaping up to be a pretty dull one for the Leafs. Nazem Kadri wasn’t named, and Morgan Rielly and Leo Komarov were predictable choices but didn’t offer a lot of intrigue. Now that the Leafs have signed Nikita Zaitsev and will draft Auston Matthews, there’s more interest in the tournament. Despite the excitement Matthews will bring to the event, I’m most excited to track Zaitsev. He is fresh off a standout performance in the Gagarin Cup and with the lack of depth on the backend for Russia internationally, a strong tournament for Zaitsev could mean a leading role on Russia’s World Cup of Hockey team. Russia only named three defensemen (and all of Andrei Markov, Dmitri Orlov, and Dmitri Kulikov shoot left) to its preliminary roster of 16 players and while there have been questions about whether they’ll bring non-NHLers, Zaitsev’s new contract should make him a frontrunner for one of the other spots regardless. The Leafs have been in desperate need of a right-handed defenseman and his play at the World Championships should help to illustrate to fans that he’s capable of fitting in on a pairing with one of Rielly or Jake Gardiner next season. Russia will likely compete for a medal too — should be fun.
Jude MacDonald (LeafsHub)
I think there’s always interest in the unknown, so I’m very curious to what we’ll see from Zaitsev and the draft eligibles. That being said, as intrigued as I may be in those who will be new to the lineup I can’t help but wonder if this tournament could be yet another important step in Morgan Rielly’s progression into a true top defender. From my vantage point I’ve felt Rielly took steps towards the end of last season and then this year was almost harnessed a little. Which will likely prove beneficial down the road and we saw again towards the end of 2015/16 he began to trend in the “stud” direction once more. Heavy usage and a take charge game once some of the veteran blue-liners were moved make me believe his time is now. The hope is he isn’t just a member of the Canadian team, but that he is a major contributor on the back end in all areas. If Rielly can cement himself as a top D on this club, he should hit the ground running with Toronto when camp opens in September. The Maple Leafs roster is in need of a leader back there and his time could very well be now. I’ll be tuning in for a sneak preview of the star player and leading role Morgan Rielly is now ready to command
Jeff Veillette (TLN)
There are some really good answers here; I was on the fence of giving Jude’s Rielly answer myself (mostly because I’m excited to see him with Chris Tanev). But really? None of you are here to see Auston Matthews? Because I’m here to see Auston Matthews.
Unlike Patrik Laine, who is playing on a very competitive Finnish roster with two 60-point NHL linemates in Aleksander Barkov and Jussi Jokinen, Auston Matthews has his work cut out for him. He’s playing with Patrick “PDO’d his way to 25 points” Maroon and Jordan “still playing hockey, somehow” Schroeder on an American Team that people expect to do by name but nobody should expect to do well by roster. He gets to be looked at as a focal point for that team, and today’s game was a good example of all of this; Canada smoked the Americans, but he had a wicked stretch pass to Schroeder and a couple of solid plays to get pucks to the net. The fact that Toronto has all of these options to consider, though, is something to be excited about.