Toronto Maple Leafs: Where Do All of These New Signings Fit?

The Toronto Maple Leafs have undertaken some not so insignificant changes this summer, with several players coming and going at free agency.

As a result, there will be somewhat of a different look for the Toronto Maple Leafs opening night against the Montreal Canadiens on October 12th.

In terms of the departures, there weren’t any significant surprises; nobody expected the Maple Leafs to be able to retain Ilya Mikheyev and it felt like the writing was on the wall for a while with Jack Campbell’s contract extension and indeed, Petr Mrazek’s departure.

Beyond those guys, the retirement and subsequent move into a front-office role of Jason Spezza wasn’t entirely unexpected. In fact, perhaps the only truly surprising departure was Ilya Lyubushkin.

Who Arrived This Summer for the Toronto Maple Leafs?

Obviously, the big news for the Toronto Maple Leafs is the wholesale changes in net. Whether that’s the trade for Matt Murray, the signing of Ilya Samsonov or the departure of goalie coach Steve Briere, replaced by Curtis Sanford.

These are the two that have a very obvious fit on the opening night roster; perhaps the only thing in doubt is whether Murray or Samsonov starts at the Bell Centre.

The obvious thought, given the difference in their salaries and given his edge in experience, is that Matt Murray will be given a little more runway early on. As such, come opening night, he may very well be the starting choice.

Defensively, the Toronto Maple Leafs made a couple of additions recently in Victor Mete and Jordie Benn, but it’s hard to fathom either seeing the ice, injuries notwithstanding, against their former team in October.

Both figure to be depth signings, more likely to start the campaign with the Toronto Marlies unless a considerable trade occurs freeing up cap space to carry a 23-man roster.

Although more of an extension than an addition, given he was picked up near the trade deadline last year; Mark Giordano has made his return to the Toronto Maple Leafs, signing a very team-friendly deal and it would be expected he partners Timothy Liljegren, after their break-out together.

Now is where it gets a bit more interesting for the Toronto Maple Leafs as they’ve made a series of deals for forwards that make the bottom-six a challenge to predict.

The most consistently used third line at even-strength last campaign was Ilya Mikheyev or Ondrej Kase,  with David Kampf and Pierre Engvall. Two thirds of this group will likely reunite with Engvall signing a one-year extension with the Leafs.

Likewise, the most-used fourth line at even-strength was a combination of Wayne Simmonds, Jason Spezza and Pierre Engvall or Nick Ritchie. It’s unlikely the fourth line looks anything close to similar in make-up or indeed, playing style this coming season

Instead, we should expect on cap hit alone that Calle Jarnkrok gets the rub next to Engvall and Kampf on a line that projects to be really quite hard to play against. While it’s unlikely to generate a ton of offense for the Toronto Maple Leafs, it’ll certainly make life tough for opposition lines.

Beyond just the cap hit, Jarnkrok projects to fit with that group best as he’s not exactly the most offense-first type player and will fit rather nicely as part of the Leafs ‘checking line’.

On the fourth line, Spezza is gone and Wayne Simmonds is likely to be facing the prospect of very limited ice-time, if any. His role with the team will be even further diminished this campaign if indeed the Toronto Maple Leafs opt for a higher energy, forechecking group as their fourth line.

Of the new signings, the obvious fits on such a line are Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Adam Gaudette, though they’ll need to beat out some stiff competition from the likes of Nick Robertson, Joey Anderson, Denis Malgin (who returns from Switzerland), Nick Abruzzese, Alex Steeves and possibly even Pontus Holmberg.

In the case of Adam Gaudette, the Toronto Maple Leafs will be hoping he can recapture the form that saw him score 33 points in 59 games with the Vancouver Canucks in the 2019-20 season. That sort of return will cement his place in the line-up.

Meanwhile, Denis Malgin returning from a stellar season in Switzerland certainly muddies the waters. His smaller stature doesn’t make him an immediate fit anywhere, but he’s got talent, and the team clearly likes him, so he should at least get a shot.

Either way, the bottom half of the Toronto Maple Leafs forward group is going to prove fascinating at training camp, especially with very limited options to demote players to the Marlies without them first clearing waivers.