The Toronto Maple Leafs have already made some moves to change the look of their lines for next season. We predict what they’ll be for their opening game.
Hockey is on a break for the summer but that only means excitement for the sport is heating up. The NHL UFA window opened on Wednesday to a frenzy of signings. The Toronto Maple Leafs were among the group trying to quickly snatch up new talent to replace the players they lost to other clubs.
In the early going of free agency, it appears as though the Leafs have taken a step backward, at least on paper. We know that at least four key players. Freddie Andersen, Nick Foligno, Zach Bogosian, and Zach Hyman have left the organization. This should adversely affect the franchise’s lines.
Kyle Dubas was able to acquire some fresh faces to take their place. On the first day of free agency, he was able to bring in goaltender Petr Mrazek, and a pair of NHL forwards Michael Bunting and David Kampf. While there were organizational depth signings, the Leafs notably also signed Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase.
Based on what’s known about this team’s composition in early August, we are going to attempt to predict how things will look in October. The Leafs play their season opener against the Montreal Canadiens on October 13, 2021. This is what the lines may look like for that contest:
Expect to see a familiar pairing here. Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews have proven that outside of the playoffs, they can catch lightning in a bottle. The question is who will join them on the top line as the left-winger. Nick Robertson is someone who may have a shot of this spot once the season is underway but I expect that with the current depth of this roster, he will start the season playing in the AHL for the Toronto Marlies.
This leaves the space vacant for a number of different options. It could be filled by Ritchie, Ilya Mikheyev, or even William Nylander. Instead, I think Alex Kerfoot will get a promotion. Sheldon Keefe would love to get him going early in the season. Moving Kerfoot up to the first line can give him both the minutes and confidence he needs to produce to his capabilities.
Alex Kerfoot – Auston Matthews – Mitch Marner
Once again, we have a familiar duo. On line two, Captain John Tavares will play with William Nylander to his right. On the left side will be the former Boston Bruin, Ritchie. As much as the Leafs will miss having Hyman, without him, their top-six forwards still look like a group that should have little trouble putting pucks past goalies.
Nick Ritchie – John Tavares – William Nylander
There may be some question as to whether to play Wayne Simmonds on the third or fourth line. Once Dubas brought in the new crop of players, it likely moved Simmonds down to the fourth line. Line 3 will likely Kampf’s faceoff abilities and two-way skills, centering Bunting and Mikheyev.
Michael Bunting – David Kampf – Ilya Mikheyev
Jason Spezza should get to play with Simmonds and Pierre Engvall on the fourth line. This would be fantastic for Engvall who is only 25 years old. Matching him with these two veterans should really help him take his game to the next level.
Wayne Simmonds – Pierre Engvall – Jason Spezza
Toronto Maple Leafs Defense Pairing 1
Predicting the team’s defense should be easier. Though they lost Bogosian, the team’s blueline looks strong. Morgan Rielly is a no-brainer to earn top minutes. He will likely play alongside T.J. Brodie.
Morgan Rielly – T.J. Brodie
Defense Pairing 2
The Leafs decided to protect Justin Holl above Travis Dermott. This may be the team showing their hand that they prefer Holl and have him higher on their depth chart. He slots into the second pairing ahead of Dermott to play with Jake Muzzin.
Jake Muzzin – Justin Holl
Defense Pairing 3
Dermott moves to the third pairing. He should spend time with Rasmus Sandin there. While Sheldon Keefe may prefer to move Sandin higher in his lineup, it will be hard for the Swede to usurp either Rielly or Muzzin.
Rasmus Sandin – Travis Dermott
In the past, We have discussed what the Leafs options are for Timothy Liljegren. At this point, it appears that he will be the odd man out, starting as the team’s seventh defenseman.
The Toronto Maple Leafs just committed to Petr Mrazek for three years on a contract worth $11.4 million. He should be in net for Game 1 but the expectation is that he will split starting duties with Jack Campbell throughout the season.
Unfortunately, due to Kase’s injury, he may not be ready to play in the Toronto Maple Leafs first game. Whenever he does get healthy, he will be among the players pushing to take a spot away from one of the players listed above.
Things move quickly and there’s always a chance that the roster can see a shakeup before October. It would be great to see another exciting player in the mix but with cap restraints, that won’t be easy for Dubas.