This seems to be the preferred line-up (see below) for Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson, at least early into training camp and preseason. This line-up would not include John Mitchell, Marcel Mueller, Luca Caputi, Brayden Irwin, Jay Rosehill, Jeff Finger, Brett Lebda, Jesse Blacker and Matt Lashoff, among others. I think it would be a real shame that Rosehill will not break camp with the team if this line-up holds as with the addition of the extremely effective Mike Brown he has become a bit redundant.
Another player I feel could be AHL bound is London Knights standout centre Nazem Kadri. He hasn’t looked himself (early) and barring a turnaround and some prolonged consistent play I think the AHL is just what he needs to continue his development physically and maybe more importantly, mentally. It would be a good test for Kadri and the Leafs to see how we would potentially deal with the disappointment of beginning the year in the minor leagues. Let’s face it Kadri isn’t Sidney Crosby (duh), he still has a long way to go and I think growing up a bit might actually be the first step and when I view him on most nights his overall body language to me screams ‘entitlement’. Some of the top players in the game have honed their crafts in the underrated and valuable AHL.
So if Kadri is Toronto Marlies bound to begin the year, what are the Leafs options in terms of the most effective line-up? I think the defence core remains the same until or unless one of the current “top six” either gets injured or is simply ineffective. That is an extremely deep and promising group of defenders and with Luke Schenn appearing confident early, it will be a real area of strength for the team on the ice and in the front office should Brian Burke feel the need to address his weakness at the centre ice position by moving one of Kaberle, Beauchemin, Komisarek and depending if he gets blown away with an offer and he comes out of the gate strong, Schenn.
Here is my ideal line-up:
Honestly I do like the first line-up with Grabovski on the third line adding some solid scoring depth, but only if Nazem Kadri proves to be big league ready right off the bat, which so far (very early on) is just not the case. So I moved Grabo up to the 2nd line centre role between newcomers Kris Versteeg and Clarke MacArthur. This could prove to be a solid goal scoring line with all three players capable of sniping up to 20-25 goals while adding a nice touch of speed and skill to the line-up. We brought in both Versteeg and MacArthur to pick up the scoring slack so no sense wasting either in a lesser 3rd line role.
Speaking of the 3rd line, this is John Mitchell’s chance to prove he belongs, likely his last opportunity to do so in the NHL. He’ll be between Luca Caputi and Colby Armstrong, both players who can skate, hit and hopefully score a few while playing a sound defensive game. Caputi has shown up to camp in tremendous shape and looks to be bigger, stronger and most importantly faster on his skates. He has been a big prospect for a few years and he needs to start showcasing that potential this season. We already know what Armstrong brings, and he will be a fan favourite for his rambunctious style of play. This could be an effective, abrasive and solid checking style line with the chance to pop in a few goals and make some things happen down low and on the cycle.
The argument for keeping Kadri on the team and playing with the 3rd line unit is simple, give him a chance to stay with the big club and hopefully simplify his game and improve his defensive shortcomings by throwing him into the fire. It is doubtful the Leafs will want to do this and would likely prefer him starring in the AHL in a more prolific offensive role, but it’s a thought to ponder.
The 4th line is a pure energy and momentum changing line with two solid skating big men (Hanson and Brown) who aren’t scared to get their noses dirty and of course the Leafs heavyweight (Orr). Mike Brown could prove to be one of Burke’s best offseason additions with his tenacity, strong skating and hitting tendencies and a bonus that he is a great penalty killer. I like Christian Hanson and I think he deserves to be on this team and I look for a breakout season and a potential move up to the 3rd line depending on how Mitchell/Kadri performs. Colton Orr brings his usual presence and huge right hand on a nightly basis and he could be the best pure fighter in Leafs history?
A lot of the Leafs success will clearly rest with the defence and as long as we stay healthy and each player plays up to his potential it should be one of the better groups in the NHL. Goaltending will also be imperative to any potential playoff berth and I think I can safely say (knock on wood) that there is no way it can be any worse than what the sieve named Vesa Toskala provided us last season, especially early when we started so terribly. JS Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson provide a pretty solid tandem and it finally appears we have a couple solid young tenders in the system in Jussi Rynnas, Ben Scrivens and Reimer.
We can make the playoffs a reality if:
-Phil Kessel stays healthy
-Tyler Bozak and Nik Kulemin play the entire season with Kessel and they continue building (and improving) on their success and chemisty from last season
-Dion Phaneuf scores 15+ goals and returns to the dominating (maybe slightly calmer) physical presence and power play star
-Luke Schenn forces Ron Wilson to play him 20+ minutes due to outstanding play, which in turn allows Brian Burke to move one of our excess defenseman (Kaberle) for a top notch centre
-Mikael Grabovski has a career year (60+ points)
-Nazem Kadri joins the Leafs half way through the season and starts to contribute at the big league level, consistently, adding much needed secondary scoring
-Versteeg, Armstrong, Brown, MacArthur, Komisarek, Beauchemin and Giguere simply play to their career norms, or slightly above
-Jonas Gustavsson’s play forces Ron Wilson to re-think the tandem due to extremely consistent performances
-Improved play from Hanson, Caputi, Mitchell and Kulemin
-Ron Wilson and the coaching staff improve the worst special teams in the history of the franchise, two years running
-We don’t start the year 0-7-1 and we drastically improve our putrid shootout record post lockout
What are your other keys to a successful Maple Leafs season? What are you looking for from the team this year? Who are you most excited, nervous, and anxious or worried about?