When the Toronto Maple Leafs drafted Auston Matthews first overall, they developed a fantastic 1-2 center punch.
The duo of Matthews and Nazem Kadri at the time was one of the better in the league. Add in a third-line pivot in Tyler Bozak and the Toronto Maple Leafs were one of the deepest teams down the middle.
Then, when others could not believe Toronto could add to that studded center group, they swapped out Bozak and replaced him with John Tavares.
Matthews – Tavares – Kadri down the middle downright scared opponents. That trio was one of the best, if not the best, center groups in the entire league, with the potential to challenge for ‘greatest of all time’ status.
Unfortunately, Kadri was ill-suited to the roll of third-line centre because there just isn’t enough ice time to go around. His best ability – scoring – became superfluous on the offensively stacked Leafs.
Add in, two suspensions that played a major role in back-to-back first-round exits for Toronto ultimately forced Kadri out of favour with management as they looked for ways to move on from the London, Ont. native.
And just as quickly as the Toronto Maple Leafs formed a ‘Big 3’ down the middle, they lost it just as fast.
Alex Kerfoot was brought in and many thought he could be an ideal Kadri replacement. While Kadri remains the superior player, Kerfoot became the Leafs best defensive forward, and provided some much needed balance to the roster.
But injuries forced Kerfoot to the wing, in a top six role, and with escalating salaries for Zach Hyman and Ilya Kerfoot on the horizon, perhaps that is where Kerfoot belongs.
With so much uncertainty at the third line center position and the want to create the monstrous trio they once had, the Leafs may look to upgrade their bottom-six this offseason.
As a result, Kyle Dubas and Co. should be looking at these three down the middle options to target in the 2020 offseason.