John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Leafs preseason player evaluations

Preseason games might not mean anything in the standings, but to many players hoping to impress Leafs’ brass, these games are very important. To Leafs’ coaching and management, it also gives them an opportunity to see what these guys are able to do. For the fans, it’s an opportunity to watch hockey for the first time in months and get a feel for what the new players can bring to the table. As coaches and scouts will no doubt be making their own evaluations of these players, we’ll do the same as fans. Here are some players who stood out to me (for good or bad reasons) after Game 2 of the preseason:

Morgan Rielly – The wunderkid had a quieter game then Sunday, but that’s probably because at this point, everybody knows what he is as a player. He’s a fantastic skater and puck-mover and can hold his own defensively with his physical strength. The Philadelphia Flyers team resembled an AHL squad with the other half of the team facing the Washington Capitals, so the competition wasn’t great tonight. But at this point, Rielly looks like he belongs on an NHL team. Whether or not the team can digest his $1.7-million cap-hit with Cody Franson yet to be signed is the big question.

David Clarkson – The big free agent signee came as advertised. He got under opponents’ skin; he got in chirping matches with opponents while they were on the bench; he caused havoc on the fore-check; he forced a few turnovers; and he planted himself in front of the net to some effect. He’s not the most fluid skater in the world, but he gets himself around the rink well enough. He even scored a nice forehand-to-backhand move in the shootout. He’s the type of player who plays on the edge, so he’ll have to make sure he doesn’t go over that edge and take needless penalties.

Drew MacIntyre – The 30-year-old made 13 saves but many of them were from very dangerous shots when the Leafs were running around in their own end in the second period. He had a beautiful glove save and made a few nice saves off second and third chance opportunities. He probably should have had the Bruno Gervais goal (a slap shot from just inside the blue line that went off the post and in), but he had some moments of spectacular play. There’s basically a zero per cent chance he makes the Leafs, but he should be able to keep a young Marlies team in games with his play this season.

James van Riemsdyk – Stole a puck from Gervais at the red line and ripped a wrist shot over Cal Heeter’s glove hand to open the scoring. He was back on his usual spot on a line with Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel, and they looked as dangerous as always. THANK YOU HOLM-GREN.

Jerry D’Amigo & Carter Ashton – I’m grouping these two 22-year-old wingers together because I think they’re basically in the same boat when it comes to their chances of making the team. With the Frazer McLaren injury likely to keep him out of the opening day lineup (and possibly longer), an extra forward spot is open for competition. D’Amigo and Ashton are likely to be the two players fighting for that spot, and they both proved they deserve consideration last night. Ashton impressed with his speed and willingness to engage with opponents physically. D’Amigo also showed off his world-class speed and used it to fore-check effectively. The fact they are both willing to play grinder-type roles should help both their chances of making the team on the fourth line.

Jonathan Bernier – The goalie many have anointed as the starter before he’s even played a game in blue-and-white made his much-anticipated debut last night, and it should be considered a success. He only played half the game, but in his time in net he looked really good. Much like Christopher Gibson on Sunday, he doesn’t waste too much energy in net, keeping calm and in position. He also showed a penchant for handling the puck, and used his stick well on a neat poke-check that dealt with a scoring chance from in close. I’m not going to anoint him the starter at this point, nor should anybody, but it’s good to see him play well early on anyway.

Petter Granberg – Dave Nonis mentioned in his interview with Joe Bowen during the second intermission of Sunday’s game that Granberg looked a little bit tentative while adjusting to the smaller North American ice surface in the rookie tournament. He struggled at times in last night’s game as well trying to keep up with the faster pace. His foot speed isn’t great and he needs to improve on play in his own end. You can tell the tools are there (the size, strength, reach) but he just has to learn how to use them effectively. Some seasoning in the AHL adjusting to North American pro hockey should do him a lot of good.

Jake Gardiner – Gardiner led all Leafs with over 25 minutes of ice time and excelled in those heavy minutes. And from what we saw from Gardiner in the playoffs last year, that is to be expected. There was one case late in the game where he lost an edge and fell trying to jump into the rush. The Flyers then took the puck and went the other way on a 2-on-1, but Gardiner showed off his brilliant speed by skating all the way back and tying up Brayden Schenn so he couldn’t handle a pass right in front of the net. He was his usual brilliant self on the power play as well. If Gardiner can stay healthy, he could be in for a huge year. Just in time for a new contract too.

Andrew MacWilliam – The former University of North Dakota captain has played in both preseason games thus far and has been noticeable. In the first game, he had a nice hit on Flyers forward Scott Laughton behind the Leafs’ net, and showed some good stick work and gap control on defense. In Game 2, he turned heads again when he stepped up with a big hit at the Flyers’ blue line. He’s already 23 years old so he’s not what many would consider a blue-chip prospect (although that’s exactly what Leafs director of player development Jim Hughes called him in an interview with Maple Leafs Hot Stove), but watching him in the preseason, it looks like there could be something there. Like Granberg, he’ll have an opportunity this season to get acclimated to the pro game with the Marlies. Maybe he’ll even get a few games as an NHL call-up later on, especially since the Leafs’ brass seem to be high on him.

Which player has impressed (or hasn’t impressed) you from the first two games of the preseason?

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