The Toronto Maple Leafs have exactly two homegrown star defenseman in the last 23 years.
The Toronto Maple Leafs drafted Morgan Rielly 5th overall in 2012.
In 1999, 8th round pick Tomas Kaberle came out of nowhere to became a player who would be in the Hall of Fame today if a) advanced stats were a thing when he played and b) the team was more successful.
Kaberle also doubles as the last time the Leafs took a any player who wasn’t a top draft pick and developed him into a star player.
During the last couple of seasons, Mark Hunters inability to draft has really hurt the Leafs, because they haven’t been able to supplement their roster with NHL players on entry-level deals, until this year with the emergence of Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren, both of whom have been outstanding, but one has been special. (Stats Naturalstattrick.com).
Timothy Liljegren Is a Star
Only mono prevented Liljegren from being a top-five pick, and the Leafs are finally reaping the rewards after years of patient development that turned him into arguably the best defenseman in the entire AHL.
People are starting to notice Liljegren ever since Sheldon Keefe paired him to Mark Giordano, but the truth is that Liljegren has been the Leafs best defenseman all season.
That chart comes from the Athletic, and is by Dominic L. the important thing to note is the Game Score, which shows that Liljegren has performed in the top ten percentage of all NHL players this season.
Eight defenseman (Rielly, Brodie, Muzzin, Holl, Dermott, Sandin, Liljegren and Lyubushkin) have played over 200 minutes for the Leafs this season. Here is how Liljegren ranks:
Corsi: 1st 57%
Fenwick: 1st 58%
Shots-for: 1st 57%
Goals-for; 1st 56%
Expected Goals: 1st 62%
Scoring Chances: 1st 60%
Dangerous Chances: 1st
5v5 Points: 3rd (one behind Brodie, who has played 500 more minutes)
Points per minute: 1st
Shots Against per minute: 1st
Expected Goals Against per Minute: 1st.
Toronto Maple Leafs Patience Pays Off
Now you might say, wait a minute, doesn’t he play sheltered minutes? And I’d say, no, that is a common misconception. A few weeks back I compared Sandin and Liljegren to the rest of the NHL’s Cup Contender’s 3rd pairings, and they were by far the best.
If playing 3rd pairing meant you automatically put up great results, those team’s 3rd pairings would be ranked a lot closer to Sandin and Liljegren, but they aren’t.
Plus, the second most common linemate that Lijegren has had this season is Auston Matthews, which means he is succeeding against the best competition there is.
Liljegren is worth almost the same as Adam Fox this year, and more than Quinn Hughes. He is the Leafs best defenseman (with the possible exception of Mark Giordano).
When the Playoffs start, even if the Leafs have eight healthy defenseman, they will have zero who should start ahead of Timothy Liljegren, who may very well have a Norris Trophy in his future.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have now developed three star defenseman in the last 23 years. If the Leafs sit Timothy Liljegren to play Justin Holl or Ilya Lyubushkin it will be an error on par with how Mike Babock kept giving Auston Matthews’ minutes to lesser players back in the 2016 and 17 seasons.