The Toronto Maple Leafs need a steady defenseman to log big minutes and provide a steady presence in front of their two goalies.
Though Timothy Liljegren is the most obvious candidate for a breakout season from the Toronto Maple Leafs blue-line, I have someone else in mind.
The Leafs player who will emerge as a topflight D-man with the capability of being an elite defender this coming season is 25-year-old Conor Timmins.
He shoots from the coveted right side and showed up in Etobicoke 21 pounds heavier than last season. Timmins knows this year will be his prime chance for additional ice time.
Toronto Maple Leafs Defenseman Poised for Breakout Year
A native of St. Catharines, Ontario, Timmins cannot be sent down to the Toronto Marlies without clearing waivers.
He’s put in the offseason work necessary for his body to both give and take punishment. Other than Timothy Liljegren and at times Jake McCabe, there are no other rearguards on the Leafs who can possibly do exactly what the team needs: someone who can take the body and erase players below the goal line and in front of the net.
Former Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas acquired Timmins from the Arizona Coyotes (of course, he did – Timmins was a Greyhound in the Ontario Hockey League) almost a year ago for career minor leaguer Curtis Douglas.
Dubas then signed him to a two-year extension this past February worth $2.2M (capfriendly.com), so Timmins is on a reasonable contract.
By the end of last season, Timmins was considered to be the ninth NHL caliber defenseman on the Leafs roster, but come this October, he should be given an increased role that comes with logging high-end minutes.
Timmins has offensive upside. In limited minutes thus far with the Leafs, Timmins has produced 14 points in 25 games. He had a high Corsi percentage (54.13), which means the Leafs possessed the puck more when he was on the ice, and a high expected goals percentage (56.51).
It’s almost the same as a basketball who averages 5.8 rebounds playing only 12-15 minutes a game. With more ice time, Timmins will no doubt put up the type of statistics that Keefe can’t bury in the press box. He can box out forwards and provide the necessary calm the Leafs need for their transition game.
Timmins filled in admirably when a few Leafs went down to injury last season and did not look out of place. Timmins makes a crisp outlet pass and did not have the turnover issues that seem to be a recurring nightmare for some of his teammates.
Keefe has been reluctant to provide the runway that some of the younger defenseman, like Liljegren, need to go from developmental to full flight, every game mainstay.
If the Leafs give Timmins 20 minutes a night, it will take pressure off some of their veterans, like Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie, and he will have a breakout season that will turn into playoff gold.