The Toronto Maple Leafs drafted Timothy Liljegren in the first round, 17th overall, in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
After being drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Swedish born Liljegren came to North America to play for the Toronto Marlies, where he played four seasons in the AHL (playing briefly in the NHL in each of the last two years) and became one of the best defenseman in that league.
Despite the strong AHL play, and a decent showing whenever he auditioned with the Leafs, no one really knew what to expect from Liljegren now that it was almost five years since he was drafted.
The problem with Liljegren, and a hundred other guys, is that, at least traditionally, the NHL doesn’t have a lot of room for defenseman who don’t hit or score. This isn’t really a problem on the Leafs who seem to specialize in this player (literally every defenseman they have dressed this year, other than Morgan Rielly, is a puck-moving dman who tops out at 40 points) but it certainly affects the perception of him as a viable prospect.
The Leafs are currently a top team looking to win the Stanley Cup, so I figure it might be a good idea to take a look at Liljegren and see if we think the Leafs could promote or demote him heading into the playoffs.
The Options for Liljegren are as follows:
- Promote him to Justin Holl’s spot on the second line.
- Keep him on the third line.
- Demote him and find someone better for the third line, but keep him around.
- Demote him and find someone better for the third line, but trade him.
Toronto Maple Leafs Should Promote/Demote Timothy Liljegren
This year Liljegren has played in 25 games and has six points (not counting last night’s game). My perception from watching him play is that he is a smart player who isn’t very exciting to watch, but gets the job done. I think he’s like a lot like Brodie, but that could just be me seeing what I want to.
I’ve heard lots of Leafs fans complain about him this year, but I really don’t see what they see. Sure, there are going to be errors that rookies make, but honestly, most of the time I forget he’s even a rookie. He just seems like a solid, smart player – less flashy than Sandin, but I’d trust him more.
People often don’t credit players for being good defensively if they aren’t hitting people and clearing the crease, but the Toronto Maple Leafs are getting 57% of the total scoring chances when Liljegren is on the ice.
The Leafs have 205 scoring chances vs 154 against them with Liljegren on the ice. They also possess the puck 55% of the time, while getting 54% of the shots.
While the Leafs are only two goals ahead with Liljegren on the ice (18-16 for 53%) this is actually slightly unlucky, because they are getting 58% expected goals. (stats 5v5 and from naturalstattrick.com).
While Liljegren has played most of his minutes on the 3rd pairing with Rasmus Sandin, he has skated 90 minutes with Jake Muzzin on the team’s second pairing.
It’s difficult to gauge how successful they were. On one hand, the results were great – with Muzzin and Liljegren both on the ice, the Leafs are up by two goals. However, they have a negative expected-goals rating. BUT on top of that, we must consider that the coach usually has Muzzin playing the toughest minutes. BUT on top of even that, we must consider that going by zone starts, it looks like the coach tried to find them favorable minutes with the rookie in the top four.
Based on everything, I am very happy with Timothy Liljegren on the third pairing with Rasmus Sandin. They have been extremely successful together and short of adding a star player to the bottom of the lineup, there really isn’t anywhere to go but down when your 3rd pairing is posting a 66% expected goals rating.
I think that, to date, Liljegren has shown that he could very well become a top pairing defender, and at the very least will be an above average #4. I wouldn’t want to enter the playoffs with him in the top four just yet, but he has more than earned his lineup spot and should not be demoted should the Leafs upgrade their blue-line.
So no “promote,” but no “demote” either. Talk about anti-climatic!