Toronto Maple Leafs: Predicting the Opening Night Forward Lineup

Toronto Maple Leafs - Auston Matthews (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Toronto Maple Leafs - Auston Matthews (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /

What will the opening night lineup look like for the Toronto Maple Leafs?

The Toronto Maple Leafs could be one of the best teams in the NHL heading into the 2020-21 season with more depth then they have had in years. They will be playing in an all-Canadian division, and will be counting on career years from their three, young, elite forwards.

But what will the opening night lineup look like?

Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe has some difficult decisions to make as the Maple Leafs will have many forwards battling for roster spots during training camp. While superstars like Auston Matthews and John Tavares are guaranteed full-time roster spots, it will be interesting to see which players will make the team and who will be placed on the taxi squad.

The Toronto Maple Leafs Top Six 

Auston Matthews, William Nylander,  John Tavares and, Mitch Marner are guaranteed to make up four of the Leafs top six spots. It would be surprising if Zach Hyman wasn’t also in the top six, and Ilya Mikheyev is probably the favorite to fill in the last spot here.

These six forwards played top half minutes last season, including Ilya Mikheyev before he was injured with a brutal cut to his wrist.  Both of the Leafs top two lines are first-line worthy, but at this point, whichever unit has Auston Mathews on it can be considered the first line.

The question is which two wingers will play with Matthews and Tavares? One of the lines former head coach Mike Babcock created that I personally thought worked well for the team is the line of Hyman, Matthews and Nylander. If they were to use that, then it would mean that the second line would be Mikheyev, Tavares and Marner.

The Third Line

Alexander Kerfoot is best suited to anchor the Maple Leafs third line. The two-way forward played much better in the middle of the ice than on the wing last season and will likely be given the role of third line centre.

The most high profile player in the bottom six may be rookie Nick Robertson. Robertson, the Leafs 2019 second round pick, lit the OHL on fire last year scoring more than a goal per game for the Peterborough Petes. He was held back from participating in the World Junior tournament by the Leafs in order to participate in training camp with the team.

Rounding out the third line may be newly signed Scarborough, Ontario native Wayne Simmonds, although it should be noted that he was not a top-nine forward in either of the past two seasons.

Simmonds is looking to revamp his career in his hometown after a below average year in New Jersey and Buffalo. His combination of toughness and skill is exactly what the Leafs need more of as they try to become tougher to play against. If he can play this high in the lineup, it’s a great thing for the Leafs, but due to some exemplary depth, they don’t have to count on it.

The Fourth Line 

Who makes the Toronto Maple Leafs fourth line is one of the biggest question marks heading into next season, simply because there are so many options. There are a number of depth forwards that could make the team as the toughest line to predict is the line that will receive the least amount of minutes.

Former San Jose Sharks superstar Joe Thornton will most likely be the teams fourth line centre. The 41 year old future hall-of-famer is an important player who provides leadership and experience to Toronto’s young locker room.

Jason Spezza was brought back to play on the Leafs fourth line for another season. Like Thornton, Spezza provides leadership and still has some skill left as well. While both Spezza and Thornton are out of their primes, both players are excellent people to help lead this Maple Leafs team to win its first Stanley Cup since before most fans of the team were born.

The last forward to make the team could be a number of players. Pierre Engvall played regular minutes throughout most of the 2019-20 season and was very effective on the penalty kill. Although, after he signed an extension, his production sharply declined, his underlying numbers remained strong.

Jimmy Vesey is another winger that could make the opening night roster. The Leafs were rumoured to sign Vesey in 2016 before he eventually signed with the New York Rangers. The 6’3 left winger could add tenacity and skill to the Leafs fourth line.

The last player that could fill the 12th forward spot is Alexander Barabanov. Barabanov has played in the KHL the past seven seasons and was brought in to compete for a roster spot by Kyle Dubas. The skilled Russian could make the team out of training camp and turn into this year’s Ilya Mikheyev. He could easily be too good for a fourth line, but as no one has ever seen him play in the NHL yet, it’s hard to say.

It is tough to predict who will make the team as the twelfth forward, but I believe that Jimmy Vesey will win the job as the Leafs fourth line left winger while Pierre Engvall and Alexander Barabanov are placed on the taxi squad.

The Toronto Maple Leafs lineup could look something like this for January 13, 2021 against the Montreal Canadiens.





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Of course, training camp always brings a surprise or two. The Leafs could opt to use a stacked first line, or take advantage of Nick Robertson’s talent in the top-six.  Barabanov or Vesey or any number of players could win a higher-in-the-lineup-than-expected job.  Predicting what this team’s lines will be is harder than usual because of how deep of a team they are – a problem every team wishes it had.