Toronto Maple Leafs Should Play 7D-11F More Often

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 18: Mikko Lehtonen #46 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates the puck in his first NHL game against the Winnipeg Jets at Scotiabank Arena on January 18. 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 18: Mikko Lehtonen #46 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates the puck in his first NHL game against the Winnipeg Jets at Scotiabank Arena on January 18. 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /
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The Toronto Maple Leafs dressed seven defenseman and 11 forwards on Monday night against the Winnipeg Jets and it was their most dominant performance of the season. So should they continue to play this strategy?

The strength of the Toronto Maple Leafs offense is their forward depth. Their top-two lines are some of the best in the league, they have a shutdown third line and two veteran NHLers on the fourth line. There’s not a player on their roster that can’t play with anyone else in the line-up.

As a result, it makes the coaching staff’s job much easier when it comes to switching lines mid-game to find chemistry. Here are a few of the different forward lines that Sheldon Keefe was able play 5v5 against Winnipeg, according to Natural Stat Trick.

  • Joe Thornton-Auston Matthews-Mitch Marner
  • Jimmy Vesey-John Tavares-William Nylander
  • Zach Hyman-Alex Kerfoot-Ilya Mikheyev
  • Zach Hyman-Auston Matthews-Mitch Marner
  • Zach Hyman-Jason Spezza-Ilya Mikheyev
  • Auston Matthews-John Tavares-Mitch Marner
  • Jimmy Vesey-Jason Spezza-Wayne Simmonds

I believe there were more combinations than this because I remember seeing Thornton and Spezza playing together, but those are the seven combinations that Natural Stat Trick tracked. Either way, that’s some great flexibility, as every line has a scoring option.

One of the biggest problems with playing 11 forwards is trying not to burn out your rotating forward that has to play on the fourth line. Marner led the Leafs forwards in ice time playing 24:38, while Matthews was second with 22:47. Those are high numbers, but their young legs can handle that type of workload, so it’s nothing to worry about.

With 11 forwards, I hoped that John Tavares and William Nylander would get more ice time, but they continued to see limited action, only playing 16 minutes. It’s disappointing that two of the team’s best forwards are on a leash right now, but it’s clearly working.

11 Forwards and 7 Defensemen Could Be Leafs Best Strategy

This new strategy against the Winnipeg Jets on Monday night meant that Mikko Lehtonen would make his highly anticipated NHL debut. Although the analytics would prove otherwise (42.86 Corsi For Percentage, -19.31 Relative Corsi For Percentage), I thought the former KHL Defensemen of the Year played well in limited action.

The coaching staff didn’t give Lehtonen much of an opportunity. He played 6:07 and was only given one shift in the third period. I know it’s his NHL debut and the game is much faster than the KHL, but I’d like to see more of him. I wish I had video of this play, but Lehtonen made an amazing bank pass from his defensive zone to get the puck into the offensive zone that showed his skill. The play didn’t result in a goal, but it very well could in the future.

Jake Muzzin, Justin Holl, Morgan Rielly and T.J. Brodie all played more than 20 minutes against Winnipeg, so it’s tough to give Lehtonen much action when the top-four is playing so much, but I hope the team finds some opportunity for him soon. He’s a wasted talent on the bench and his skillset is going to only help this team. Lehtonen can be just as good, if not better than Travis Dermott and Zach Bogosian, so the more ice time, the better.

Personally, I’d love to see the Toronto Maple Leafs continue to play with seven defenseman and 11 forwards because it keeps everyone more engaged. By adding a defenseman, Bogosian and Dermott should have a heightened awareness knowing that Lehtonen can replace them at anytime, while the limited forwards gives more ice-time to everyone.

Next. Leafs Hang On To Beat Jets. dark

Sheldon Keefe said that he’ll go back to the seven defenseman and 11 forward strategy against the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday, so let’s hope it works once again.