Dobber's offseason fantasy hockey grades – Toronto Maple Leafs
For the last 13 years (12 with The Hockey News) I have reviewed each team from a fantasy-hockey standpoint and graded them. My 14th annual review will appear here on DobberHockey throughout the summer. This is not a review of the likely performance on the ice or in the standings, but in the realm of fantasy hockey.
Impact of changes – Astute fantasy owners would have known about these changes a year ago. Granted, they wouldn’t have known the precise details or the exact player names, but generally speaking the pieces of the puzzle were all there. We knew that all those short-term free agent signings in the summer of 2015 were made so the Leafs could get draft picks at the deadline (though Parenteau’s injury at the worst week of the year prevented them from doing the same with him). We realized that any injury to what few remaining ‘name’ players the Leafs had would see extended time on the shelf so that the team would be in a better – but legal – position to draft Auston Matthews. We understood that they would get a high draft pick for an impact player. We knew that there were several real high-end prospects who would be ready to make the jump either in 2016 or 2017. And finally, we figured that the Leafs would land a solid goaltender.
Today, we have some names to fill in the blanks as the rebuild process pushes forward to the next stage.
Goaltending is significantly upgraded. And the Leafs pretty much added two-thirds of a first line with the return to health of James van Riemsdyk along with top rookie Matthews. Yes, the company mantra seems to be that Matthews will be on the third line, but we all know that by December that won’t be true. Toronto ranked 27th in goals scored last season and you can expect that to get into the Top 20 in the season ahead. With better goaltending and skilled forwards, the likes of defensemen Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner are in for a treat.
Ready for full-time – Alright, time to grab a coffee and settle in. This part will be lengthy.
Auston Matthews was the gem of the 2016 draft. I compare his potential points trajectory to that of John Tavares. The two are comparable in terms of their elite skill, their size, and the fact that they join a team at the age of 18 that is in the early stages of a rebuild. The situations are so similar it would almost be stupid not to look over Tavares’ career numbers and expect the same for Matthews. Tavares had 54 points as a rookie, 67 as a sophomore and then 81 points in Year 3. (Read more on Matthews here)
William Nylander has one thing that worries me, but only one thing. Injuries. He hasn’t had a ton of them, but he’s still a little small and he plays a style that doesn’t keep his head up enough. And as we saw at last year’s World Junior Championship, it only takes one time. But that could just be my own paranoia. Everything else is in place for this guy to be a star in the league. He has absolutely nothing left to prove in the AHL. (Read more on Nylander here)
Zach Hyman may not make the team because of the numbers game. He’s a real promising third-liner with the potential get onto a scoring line with the right chemistry with the right people. He had a great trial run with the big club throughout March, tallying six points in 16 games. The coach trusts him in most situations and the 24-year-old deserves to be on this team. He’d make most other teams, but can an NHL team have six or seven rookies? We’re about to find out. (Read more on Hyman here)
Mitch Marner would be sent to the OHL if he didn’t make the team. And how silly would he look in that league now? It would be a mockery. He’d take a run at 150 points! So this will go one of three ways. First, the Leafs could keep him on the team for the nine-game trial before his contract kicks in. They could drag out that ninth game (and thus the decision) and send him down at the start of November. Then he would have the WJC in late December. Second, the Leafs could keep him the way the Rangers kept Anthony Duclair two years ago. So Marner would get into a couple of dozen games, sit for a few, and then go directly to the WJC. Then he wouldn’t join the OHL until mid-January, which won’t be quite as much of a waste. Or thirdly, my choice, he just makes the Leafs and has an outstanding rookie campaign. (Read more on Marner here)
Kerby Rychel was acquired by the Leafs at the draft this summer. The knock on him has been his consistency, but he has scoring-line upside and hasn’t shown us anything as a pro that would lead us to believe he won’t get there. He’ll have to battle his way up the depth chart in order to get decent opportunities, but if he can’t do that then he shouldn’t be owned in fantasy anyway. This season will tell the whole story, even though he turns just 22 next month. (Read more on Rychel here)
Nikita Soshnikov is an energy player with skill. He also has a high tendency for hits – he had 34 of them in just 11 games with the Leafs. And that looks great alongside his five points. A little weak defensively, but experience should help with that. He turns 23 next month. At worst he’ll be a midseason call-up and when that happens he’s a must-own player in leagues that count hits. (Read more on Soshnikov here)
Connor Carrick led the AHL’s Calder Cup playoffs in scoring in the spring and he didn’t even play in the final round! And did I mention he’s a defenseman? The only concern with Carrick is the fact that the Leafs already have Rielly and Gardiner, not to mention Zaitsev (below). Only so much PP time to go around, but I have a feeling that Carrick will play himself into the mix. (Read more on Carrick here)
Nikita Zaitsev has a lot of skill as a puck-moving defenseman, but his KHL point totals over the last two seasons are actually rather modest (26 points in 46 games last year). He was 15th among defensemen in scoring behind the likes of failed NHLers Cam Barker, Jonathan Blum and Sami Lepisto, and despite the fact that he had Alexander Radulov on his team. I’d have a brighter outlook for him if this was a team in need of a puck mover, but with Rielly, Carrick and Gardiner around, Zaitsev is in tough. (Read more on Zaitsev here)
Fantasy Outlook – The crop of prospects is still improving – and by a lot. And now some of them are NHL-ready. Suddenly, there are a handful of Leafs who are coveted in keeper leagues – in all positions. They’re on the right track. I’d like to actually see the potential come to fruition before giving them a B, but for now it looks good.
Fantasy Grade: C+ (last year was D+)
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