Toronto Maple Leafs Storylines to Watch in Season Opener


Sep 23, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander (62) celebrates his goal against Philadelphia Flyers goaltender

Steve Mason

(35) with Toronto Maple Leafs forward

Mike Santorelli

(25) and forward

Phil Kessel

(81) at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Philadelphia 4-0. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Hockey is finally back.

The Toronto Maple Leafs season opens Wednesday night at home against the Montreal Canadiens.

It’s been a long time coming for an organization and their fans that have had to wait months to wash away’s last year’s train-wreck of a finish to the season.

After the offseason saw sweeping changes to both the coaching staff and front office—though the leaders of both, Randy Carlyle and Dave Nonis, both survived—as well as a shift in philosophy, this Leafs squad is revamped and ready to compete.

From a completely retooled bottom-six core of forwards, to a few new faces on the blue line, Leafs fans should be excited about the 2014-15 season.

Here are some storylines to watch out for in the team’s opening contest against the arch-rival Montreal Canadiens.

How Will the Bottom-Six Look?

There’s no doubt that the biggest project the Buds took on this summer was to remake their third and fourth forward lines.

Out, are one-dimensional players like tough guys Colton Orr and Frazier McLaren, as well penalty-kill specialist Jay McClement. In, are guys like David Booth—though he’s out for a few weeks with a foot injury—Daniel Winnik, Mike Santorelli, as well as returnees Matt Frattin and Leo Komarov.

All of these players can handle themselves in the offensive end. All of them are also improvements in advanced metric categories like Corsi and Relative Corsi—Winnik would be the exception here, but his main purpose is to replace McClement, while adding a bit more upside offensively.

Players like Frattin, Booth, Santorelli and Clarkson should he land in the bottom-six to start the season also possess more skill than the previous batch of third and fourth liners.

Here are the projected lines for the opening night tilt against Habs:

If those do turn out to be the lines, there are a few things Leafs fans should be keeping an eye out for.

First is the obvious question, how will the new players look in the Blue and White? How long will it take for them to gel, considering they’ve only had training camp and the preseason to develop chemistry.

The second thing to watch for is how much the bottom two lines play and how effective they are.

Last season, one of the big downfalls of this team was their heavy reliance on the top two lines.

Along with poor defensive play and puck possession numbers, the fact that they had to rely on their top lines so much can be seen as a contributing factor in this team blowing leads late in games.

After all, you’re throwing out your best forwards who are gassed, while your opposition is countering with their top guns who have been spelled more by their third and fourth line compatriots.

Having four lines that can all maintain possession of the puck and play effective, two-way hockey is crucial for this Leafs team in taking the next step to return to the playoffs.

The Youth Movement

Apr 3, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward

Nazem Kadri

(43) scores the game winning goal on Boston Bruins goaltender

Chad Johnson

(30) as defenseman

Kevan Miller

(86) defends at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Boston 4-3 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

This season isn’t just ushering in a series of new forwards into the Leafs dressing room.

There are also a few young guns joining the club, as well as a few others looking to take the next step in developing their game.

First there’s Brandon Kozun, who is expected to jump right onto the second line, after he was expected to be with the Toronto Marlies at the beginning of the season. The 24-year-old speedster now has a chance to prove himself in the regular season, surrounded by the likes of Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul—if Paul Hendrick is to be believed.

Then there’s the likes of Kadri and Jake Gardiner who are now well into their career and looking to prove they can be top-tier talents.

Morgan Rielly is also looking to build on his fine rookie campaign.

Can Kadri take the next step forward offensively, in the faceoff circle and in his own end? Can Gardiner establish himself as a true top-pairing defenseman? Can Rielly become more defensively aware, while keeping his innate offensive capabilities from the backend?

Finally, there’s another feel-story of a rookie playing his way onto this team.

Stuart Percy—one of Toronto’s first-round draft selections from 2011—will also stick with the big club. For now, it will be as the team’s seventh defenseman, but with Franson hurt and other injuries sure to strike during the 82-game stretch that is the regular season, Percy has positioned himself to be the first man called into the starting lineup.

At just 21 years old, he also makes the Leafs core of seven defensemen even younger, per Hendrick:

Keep a lookout for those storylines in Wednesday night’s game, and enjoy it. After all, hockey’s back!

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