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Top 20 Maple Leafs Prospects: #1 Timothy Liljegren

We all knew we were ending up here, right? I mean, we had a couple of hot takists who didn’t put Liljegren at #1 this year, and that made this a modestly interesting exercise, but it’s probably not shocking that the guy who slated to go first overall in the draft, caught mono, dropped in the rankings, and had a solid AHL rookie campaign to prove the world wrong would be our favourite.

Anyway, I want to thank everyone for joining us on this march through the rankings to this anti-climatic conclusion, and now we can get on with celebrating Liljegren. Future #1 RD.

The Votes

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I’m not going to shame anyone for liking Andreas Johnsson a lot. He’s NHL ready and that’s going to carry a lot of weight around here, and maybe a lot of us are overly excited because of Liljegren being a first round pick, who was slated to go even higher. That or the fact that he could potentially fill the organization’s top need as a top pairing, right side defenseman.

Anyways, Liljegren was also number one last year, and it seems reasonable he’ll be here again next year.

Bio

So the kid is 19, so we’ve got some time with him, right? RIGHT? STOP WRITING HIM IN ON YOUR LEAFS ROSTER!!! Okay. He’s 19, he’s from Sweden, like every other Leafs prospect we’ve talked about and seriously like. He’s 6’0, 192 lbs, so he’s got the size you’d expect a less physical defenseman to have. And did I mention HE SHOOTS RIGHT! AND IS A DEFENSEMAN!!!! Stop adding him to your roster.

The Stats

via eliteprospects.com

So, yeah. Not a lot of goals or anything until he switched into his Team Sweden jersey, but assuming that Liljegren wasn’t being given the green light to join every rush as rookie that seems reasonable. Liljegren’s career numbers reflect the fact that he is going to be a pass first player, and given that the Marlies had no shortage of defensmen this year, power play time was far from a given.

via prospect-stats.com

So being in the blue isn’t a bad thing, right? No need to panic. And the secondary assists number show that Liljegren has been starting a lot of offensive plays that have turned out favourably. He hasn’t seen a lot of playing time, and it’s good to have that perspective on this, but that being said, he also hasn’t earned more either. He’s 19, so I think we’ve got some time, but this might be a reasonable thing to consider if when you’re wondering why Liljegren isn’t on the Leafs in October.

Liljegren’s Goals For % in 2017-18 was 64.29, and his GF% Rel was 11.41, which speaks to a couple of things. The first being that he did pretty darn good against competition, and secondly that he was also sheltered. Still, no one is faulting the kid for doing well in the situations he was played.

2017-18 Season Recap

“It’s a very difficult challenge when you’re 18 years old to play in the American Hockey League,” Dubas said. “We could have put him in major junior and he’d probably look great, have a ton of points. –via Sportsnet

Probably something to consider when you stress about “why wasn’t Liljegren in the top pairing?” or “why isn’t Liljegren cracking the Leafs lineup yet?”

It might be a cop out, but there are bigger hurdles for young defensmen to make the NHL compared to forwards. Forwards have the luxury of learning NHL defensive zone play on the job, not so much for the guys who have defense in the name of their position. The fact that Liljegren made progress in this regard, and has been adding weight are encouraging takeaways from 2017-18.

The fact that Liljegren walked away from 2017-18 with a World Junior Silver Medal in addition to the Marlies Calder Cup ring is a nice little feather in his cap as well.

Has He Lived Up to Expectations?

Depends on how you are benchmarking Liljegren. If you are looking at him as mid-first round pick who has recovered from a bout of mono, you have to be pretty happy with where he’s at. If you thought the Leafs had drafted a plug and play version of Erik Karlsson, well…”WTF IS THE MATTER WITH YOU?! THESE THINGS TAKE TIME AND HE’LL GET THERE, OKAY?”

Comparables

The most reasonable comparison I can think of is probably Morgan Rielly. Obviously Rielly went a lot higher in the draft, but both were highly touted, undersized offensive defensemen that skate like the wind, and had their draft years derailed by injury or illness. Where Rielly has comfortably slid into the top pairing role over time with the Leafs, he was also rushed to the NHL out of necessity. There would have been riots at the Air Canada Centre if Randy Carlyle found another minute of icetime to give to Dion Phaneuf, and Morgan Rielly was how our sanity was preserved.

Liljegren has a bit more time to be brought along. He’s not going to be a Leaf because all he has to do is beat out Paul Ranger for a job. He’s going to need to establish himself ahead of what is a very clogged 4-6 D depth chart, and leap from into a starring role at some point.

As Seen On TV

 2018-19 Projection

“He’s such a skilled player; his skill is definitely NHL-ready,” Dermott continued. “His speed, he can skate like the wind. Good passer, good shooter, he can run a power play. And just keep getting stronger because those guys at the next level are fast, skilled, and strong.

“I can’t see him staying out of that league for much longer.” -via Sportsnet

I’d like to share Travis Dermott’s excitement about Liljegren, and would love to see him make his NHL debut sooner rather than later, but I just can’t see that happening. While there is a definite need for Liljegren, there is a need for him to be ready to play a significant role, not just steal an opportunity away from guys like Connor Carrick or Justin Holl, or usurp Nikita Zaitsev. He’s got to be clearly better than them.

If the Leafs feel that the way to make Liljegren the best possible defenseman he can be is by throwing him into a learn on the job situation on the Leafs, let’s get going on that, but I suspect that Babcock, Keefe, and Dubas want to see more in the AHL before testing the NHL waters.

It seems more than likely that Liljegren will go start to finish in the AHL this season, possibly with another appearance at the World Juniors to break up the season. As crowded as the Marlies blueline remains, I wouldn’t doubt that role that Liljegren plays on it will be very different. Last season came with the expectation that he build up strength, get used to playing in North America, and learn the system, this year we’ll likely see Liljegren the powerplay quarterback more often. We’ll see Liljegren against top competition, and we’ll see a lot more green lights to join the rush.

I guess what I’m saying is that we’ll have to pay attention to the Marlies for at least one more year.

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