The preseason is finally upon us! And with it, all of the Leafs are back at camp, or on their way there at the very least, now that Jhonas Enroth’s Swedes have been eliminated from the World Cup of Hockey. Granted, head coach Mike Babcock still isn’t there, but give it a few days for Canada to make quick work of Team Europe (as much as the opposite would be more fun) and normality will be restored once again!
Until then, let’s reach into the mailbag and see what questions have arisen over the past few days.
@LeafsGeeks asked: We saw Colin Greening play pretty well with William Nylander last year. Could you see him or Matt Martin playing with Nylander and Auston Matthews?
Greening surprised a lot of people with his play down the stretch last year, though just as many knew what to expect. The 30-year-old’s fall from grace in Ottawa was more drastic and less deserved than his sudden come-up and over-valuation; he’s still a useful forward who isn’t scared to move to the front of the net.
If the Leafs aren’t opposed to utilising their more expensive veterans, I imagine that Greening, Martin Milan Michalek, and Leo Komarov will all be those type of net-crashing and forechecking presences along the various lines. Greening could be a candidate to do it on the Matthews/Nylander line, but after the impressive World Cup he had with the Czech Republic, I see Michalek winning that spot. It’s probably the role with the highest odds of rotation on that line, though, so Greening or Martin being there at some point wouldn’t be a huge shock either.
@HunterCrowther asked: What do you think stood out the most in Nikita Zaitsev’s game throughout the World Cup of Hockey? What should Leafs fans expect?
I’ll be going into more detail into Zaitsev’s performance at the World Cup in a little bit (later today with a fresh new post, actually), but I feel that the rookie defenceman’s strongest asset during the exhibition and round-robin games was his ability to exit the defensive zone with control of the puck and instigate the transfer of meaningful possession for the Russians. Zaitsev and his partner Dmitry Orlov were tasked with escaping tricky situations on a frequent basis and surprisingly, it was the one with no NHL experience who carried out the mission more often than not.
I think Leafs fans now know to expect a legitimate NHL-quality defenceman out of him, though where he lies on that spectrum will have to be clarified with some experience. I’ve felt positive about him since the 2014/15 KHL season, but strictly using this tournament and pointing to him as Russia’s best defenceman isn’t a shining advertisement when you consider that Orlov had a rough few weeks, Andrey Markov is a billion years old, Alexei Emelin and Dmitri Kulikov are both sub-par, and I had to confirm with google that Alexey Marchenko was the other regularly played defenceman.
@Kuro_Madoushi asked: Are there any positives to the idea of Mitch Marner going back to the OHL?
Believe it or not, there is one, and it has to do with spreading second contracts. By sending Marner back for one more year, you make it so Nylander, Matthews, and Marner’s first raises each come in separate years, lowering the chances of a mass-handicap. With that said, he really doesn’t have much left to prove in major junior, and he’ll help the Leafs be better right now. I wouldn’t seriously entertain the idea of him going back, unless he gets into a screaming match with Babcock or punches Matthews or does something else that’s completely unrealistic to actually happen.
@Leafhead2154 asked: Do you think that we see a trade or two involving the Leafs before the season starts?
I can’t really come in with insider information and declare that something is imminent here, but you have to imagine there’s at least one move coming before puck drop. As I referenced in my article about Jacob Trouba yesterday, the Leafs have enough forwards right now to send multiple replacement level NHL players to the AHL, and even more replacement level AHL players to the ECHL. As much as people get attached to players, you can only field a roster that’s so big and trading a player while they have value is probably smarter than losing them to waivers; who goes is anybody’s guess, but I wouldn’t be shocked ot see at least one quantity for quality (or draft picks) move happen in the next two or three weeks.
@djlevitan asked: Who/What, outside the obvious, should we keep our eye on for training camp?
Here’s a small one: What position are a lot of these guys going to end up playing? The defence core is easy, but the forwards almost entirely play left wing or centre as their primary positions. Have they settled on Marner and Nylander becoming right wingers? Does Matt Martin stay on the left side? Which of Peter Holland and Brooks Laich ends up on a wing? I assume Van Riemsdyk, Bozak, Kadri, and Matthews have their positions secured, but does anyone else really know where on the ice they’ll stand?
We’ll find out soon enough!