Beyond the comfort of their scrimmage bringing some sense of normalcy to a Saturday night, the Toronto Maple Leafs knew this was an important showcase of what their 2020-21 season has in store.
Leave it to the Toronto Maple Leafs to broadcast a practice across national television. As if other teams around the league, let alone throughout Canada, didn’t have enough reason to despise this franchise.
Regardless, their Blue versus White Game opened a window of what we can expect to see as this upcoming season gets underway. While most of what was witnessed brought a re-energized excitement for what’s to come, other aspects of the game didn’t quite impress.
When you compared these two lineups, it seemed like a safe bet to back Blue. That side was stacked with Travis Dermott, T.J. Brodie, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, Morgan Rielly, Rasmus Sandin, Wayne Simmonds, Jason Spezza, Joe Thornton, and Frederik Andersen, to name a few.
It’s not to downplay the others who led the way for White, but the reality is that a bench filled with that much of the team’s star power should certainly have been favored over the other. Well, go figure, as Blue found a way to lose this one by a score of 7-3.
Whether this should cause concern given what it means for those who didn’t perform, or if it simply adds a level of justifiable confidence to names we wouldn’t normally look to count on, is yet to be seen. Either way, there were some obvious takeaways that were impossible to ignore.
Andersen Not Yet Ready
Look, although this was essentially a glorified practice, these are professionals who need to be mastering their craft every chance they get. In this less than traditional lead-up to what could be one of Frederik Andersen’s most important years through his current term with Toronto, he didn’t do much to solidify a new contract offer.
Following failure through 2019-20, in which Andersen saw some of the worst stats of his career thus far, he has to kick off the 2020-21 season with as much success as possible. While some of that will depend on the play of those in front of him, he needs to be a lot sharper than what was displayed if he expects to effectively manage his role.
Tavares Captains Control
On to the more positive notes, it was refreshing to see John Tavares show us all why he should never be underestimated. After taking a bit of a step back in his pace of production through his second year in Toronto, questions began to arise around whether he’d be able to provide what the Maple Leafs need of him moving forward.
Then he went and did that mid-way through the first period, proving that this 30-year-old is far from willing to let skeptics overshadow his presence. From seamless puck handling, to navigating the play, to finishing what he started, this is the type of talent Toronto hopes to get from Tavares all season long.
Marner Brings the Magic
Through his first four years in the league, Mitch Marner has certainly done his part to land on the highlight reels. However, it’s been more for the creativity he shows in his playmaking, as opposed to having found that scoring touch. 2019-20 actually saw some of his lowest shot stats to date.
Marner must have taken a look at last year’s lackluster results before this one, as he wasted little time in elevating expectations. Not only is it a welcome sight to see him think shot first for a change, but witnessing the strength and precision behind this marker was a sight the Maple Leafs hope becomes Marner’s norm through 2020-21.
Lehtonen is Legit
Toronto took a calculated chance on signing an undrafted Mikko Lehtonen in May 2020. The 27-year-old defenseman has won a host of international medals representing Finland, captured a Swedish Hockey League championship in 2017, and just concluded an all-star 2019-20 season that saw him lead the KHL in assists, goals, and points by a defenseman.
While the Maple Leafs defensive troubles can’t be fixed by adding more offense, Lehtonen’s silky smooth skill set was impossible to ignore during that scrimmage. Even if he isn’t scoring, bringing this type of controlled pace to their backend can only be seen as a benefit to the Maple Leafs blue line. (Stats courtesy of: Hockey-Reference, Elite Prospects).
Yes, it’s far too early to conclude what we’ll witness out of this Toronto Maple Leafs team this season. However, that scrimmage provided an important glimpse into the areas that clearly need added attention, while permitting a sense of confidence that the overall picture may finally be coming together the way they need it to.