Toronto Maple Leafs Have Playoff Caliber Depth at Center
The Toronto Maple Leafs were able to add depth throughout their lineup at the NHL trade deadline. One of the areas they addressed was the center ice position.
The Toronto Maple Leafs already have a good one/two punch at center ice with John Tavares and Auston Matthews. After them, Toronto now has the additions of Ryan O’Reilly, Noel Acciari, and Sam Lafferty. The team also still has David Kampf and Pontus Holmberg. Center ice is no longer a weakness for this team.
Head coach Sheldon Keefe has so many options going into the playoffs. He can use O’Reilly to center the 2nd or 3rd line. Toronto has already experimented with doing this. O’Reilly and Tavares worked well together on the 2nd line. Depending on which team Toronto plays, having Matthews, Tavares, and O’Reilly centering their own lines is a luxury for Keefe.
If having O’Reilly in the top six gives us the best chance to win, then that is what Keefe should do. Having Lafferty, Kampf, Acciari, and Holmberg as options to center the 3rd and 4th lines is another luxury. All have proven to be effective centers this season.
Puck Possession a Strength for Toronto Maple Leafs
Having your centers win faceoffs allows you more time with the puck. All any head coach asks from their centers is that they win more than 50% of their faceoffs. Matthews has a 52.9% faceoff winning percentage. Tavares is at 58.4%, O’Reilly’s won 56% on the season (67.5% with Toronto), Kampf is at 52.3%, Acciari 53.6% on the season (54.5% with Toronto), Lafferty 52% (50% with Toronto), and Holmberg has won 42.5%. (Stats from hockey-reference.com)
Overall, this is an impressive group compared to many teams around the NHL. Holmberg has the worst percentage out of the group, but it is unlikely that he will play in the playoffs unless there is an injury. I like Toronto’s chances with this group.
Their centers can line up against any team and have a good chance at winning faceoffs and having more puck possession time. This group is the deepest group of centers Toronto has ever iced during the salary cap era.
The Tampa Bay Lightning appears to be the Toronto Maple Leafs’ round-one opponent once again. I think Toronto’s center depth surpasses the Lightning’s, and it will be important for Toronto to control the puck as much as possible.
The Toronto Maple Leafs lost their round-one series against Tampa last season by one goal. They can’t allow that to happen again. Winning faceoffs and controlling the puck should help with that.