Fans and writer’s are arguing that the Toronto Maple Leafs need to sign or trade for a right-handed defenseman, but do they already have one in-house?
With the 17th overall selection in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, the Toronto Maple Leafs committed highway robbery by drafting Timothy Liljegren. Originally looked to be a top-five pick, his stock fell tremendously because he had mononucleosis that season.
I understand that injuries are a big concern when you’re drafting, but mono, really? Sure, by contracting that, it would limit his play and drop his energy levels for a few months, but after that, he should be able to get back to the excellent player he was developing into.
It blows my mind that team’s get so scared because of a player’s injury when they draft him. Do team’s not understand that they secure the rights to this player for a minimum of three NHL seasons and potentially seven or eight more before they hit Unrestricted Free Agency? It even happened with Morgan Rielly in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. If it wasn’t for a significant knee injury during his draft year, Rielly probably would have gone first or second overall.
Toronto Maple Leafs and Timothy Liljegren
Since Liljegren was a high draft pick, fans think that because he hasn’t secured a roster spot yet, he’s a bust. The team should put him in a trade package and ship him out for an established defenseman. That is so mind-blowing to me. The Leafs currently have control of Liljegren for two more seasons at $863.3K before he comes a RFA.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are going to be getting an absolute bargain with him for two seasons and he should get regular minutes in the NHL next season. Liljegren is already a Calder Cup winner and an American Hockey League (AHL) All-Star defenseman, doing all of this before his 21st birthday. The AHL is a developmental league, but it’s an incredibly skilled league where they don’t give out participation trophies. Being selected as an All-Star in that league is a great accomplishment for Liljegren.
Not only that, but Liljegren has a huge advantage of being able to play in the AHL for the past three seasons. Since he’s a European player, he had the option of playing in the AHL at 18-years-old, where a player who plays in the Ontario Hockey League has to wait until they’re 20-years-old.
Let’s let compare a current NHLer to Liljegren when he was playing in the AHL. We’ll call him Player X for now:
Timothy Liljegren (6 feet tall, 190 pounds, right-handed shot, Toronto Marlies):
- 2017-18 Season (18 years old): 44 Games – 1 Goal, 17 points
- 2018-19 Season (19 years old): 43 Games – 3 Goals, 15 Points
- 2019-20 Season (20 years old): 40 Games – 5 Goals, 30 Points
Player X (5-foot-10, 180 pounds, right-handed shot, Milwaukee Admirals):
- 2010-11 season (20 years old): 7 Games – 1 Goal, 2 Points
- 2011-12 season (21 years old): 29 Games – 4 Goals, 18 Points
- 2011-12 season (22 years old): 32 Games – 5 Goals, 14 Points
- Career NHL stats: 527 NHL Games Played, 70 Goals, 252 Points
Do you know how I’m talking about yet?
Player X is Ryan Ellis of the Nashville Predators, unanimously considered one of the NHL’s best defensemen. (stats hockeydb.com).
Taken with the 11th pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, it wasn’t until the 2013-14 season (4 years later) where Ellis become a full-time NHL player. Now, he’s established himself as a #1 defenseman.
As shown by the Ellis comparison, it takes time to learn and develop into an NHL defenseman. Ellis was 22-years-old when he became a full-time NHLer, so if you don’t break into the league as a teenager it’s no big deal. Liljegren is developing and becoming a better player every day, so don’t be shocked if he’s on the Leafs roster at the start of the 2020-21 season, and playing a significant role.