The Toronto Maple Leafs went from the basement to the playoffs as one of the biggest surprises of the season. Rookies, Mike Babcock, Frederik Andersen, the vets, everyone contributed to this massive turnaround. Now, the Leafs are looked at as a perennial playoff team with future aspirations of a true Stanley Cup contender. I don’t expect them to be a real contender this season, mostly because their blue line still needs a piece or two, but they should be a solid playoff team with plenty of fantasy contributors. Let’s take a look at the riches Toronto is working with:
Elite Talents – Auston Matthews blew away my expectation as a rookie. Matthews scored four goals in his first game and while he had his cold streaks, 40 goals as a 19 year old is absolutely insane. He also averaged almost 3.5 shots per game which is outstanding for a rookie. On top of natural progression, his ATOI should increase as he only played 17:38 per game. Matthews is a borderline first round pick this year who I ranked 15th in my Top 50 from April.
I’ve long been a huge fan of Mitch Marner‘s offensive potential; I actually said that he had more offensive upside than Matthews before last season and I still think that’s true. Marner scored 19 goals and 42 assists while giving average contributions in the other categories. Like Matthews, he has built-in upside due to age and an increased workload. 70+ points isn’t out of the question. I put Marner at 40th in my early Top 50 and while I may drop him a few spots, he still should go in the 4th or 5th round in a 12 man league.
Most people wouldn’t put Nazem Kadri has an elite talent but he belongs here. One of my best aggressive rankings from last season, Kadri was a monster scoring 32 goals and 29 assists while adding 95 PIM and almost 3 shots per game. With 30/30/100 being a realistic outcome with that shot rate, Kadri is very close to a top 50 player; he’s basically Wayne Simmonds with a little less PIM and STP.
William Nylander may have been the oldest of the terrific trio of rookies for Toronto but his stat line was strikingly similar to Marner. Nylander also had 61 points (22+39) with decent shots and PIM. His best play came on the power play where he had 26 points. I’m not sure it gets much better than this but there’s a chance he pushes 70 points as well. He just missed my top 50 and should go in the 5th or 6th round.
Must Drafts – James van Riemsdyk was actually a better fantasy asset than Marner or Nylander last season. JVR was second on the team in points with 29 goals and 33 assists. He pushed three shots per game, gave average penalty minutes and was decent on the power play. The Charlie Conway look-alike has been the subject of trade rumors for a while now but at this point, I think he stays. I almost put him in the elite category but Babcock seems content on playing him average minutes. JVR is a clear top 100 player given the shot rate and 30+30 is almost expected.
After 20 years in San Jose, Patrick Marleau left the shark tank for Toronto. Marleau scored 27 goals and added 19 assists last season. He’s a late round draft pick given his age but there is some upside because he should play with Matthews at even strength.
Streamers – Tyler Bozak should stick with JVR and Marner at even strength. That alone makes him fantasy relevant. Bozak had 18 goals and 37 assists last season while being decent in the other categories. The reason I have him as a streamer and not must-draft is that I don’t see any upside from last season’s totals. Bozak could also drop off quite a bit if Kadri takes his place. Regardless, if he went from 55 points to about 48, then he’s not a hold. I’d rather take someone with more upside later in the draft.
Connor Brown had a solid rookie campaign scoring 20 goals. He probably will play with Kadri but his fantasy value will be determined by his power play time. Don’t draft him but keep him on your radar.
Bottom End – Toronto doesn’t have anyone who falls into a clear hold category. Morgan Rielly was drafted fifth overall for his huge offensive upside but it hasn’t panned out. Rielly struggled mightily last season with 6+21 and a -20 rating. I’m fine with taking him as your last defenseman in 12’ers hoping it clicks but I wouldn’t be shocked if you have to cut him two weeks into the season.
Jake Gardiner was the best Toronto defenseman last season and is close to a must-draft. Gardiner buried 9 goals and added 34 assists. He was +24 and added 34 PIM but the shots were below average. If defensemen are as bad as last season, then Gardiner could be a hold all season. The problem is I expect a bunch of young guys to take a step forward so we may actually get some decent defensemen options for the bottom of rosters. I would draft Gardiner but wouldn’t have high expectations.
Nikita Zaitsev was basically a poor man’s Gardiner in his rookie season. Zaitsev had 4+32 but had an even worse shot rate than Gardiner. I wouldn’t draft him but would pick him up at the end of a week in head to head if you needed some assist potential from the blue line. Assists ain’t got no face!
The big offseason trade acquisition from last year was Frederik Andersen. Andersen was incredibly streaky, starting the season horribly before having an excellent two months. At the end of the year, Andersen posted a solid .918 sv% but his goals against average was a brutal 2.67. With the roster improving around him, Andersen has #1 goalie upside this season. He’ll be one of my favorite targets as a #2 goalie this year.
Curtis McElhinney will be Andersen’s backup. He had the best season of his career last year with a .917 sv% in 21 games. McElhinney has a track record of being a poor goaltender (it’s amazing he was even in the league to start last season) so I wouldn’t use him outside of desperation.
HITS / BLOCKS / FACEOFF LEAGUES
Kadri gets a small boost for his hit totals while Zaitsev becomes a hold with his strong hits and elite blocks. Bozak is excellent at the dot but that gets cancelled out by his poor hits and blocks. Leo Komarov has had his role greatly reduced but if you need hits, he’s your guy. The Maple Leafs don’t have many player who have a drastic change in value.
Toronto has so many young players that their values drastically change. Matthews is a clear first round pick who is close to the top five overall if he’s not in it. Marner moves up to a second round value while Nylander probably falls into the third round. At 27 years old, I think Andersen is pushed up to a bottom end #1 goalie since Toronto isn’t close to their peak.
Blue Chip – I couldn’t believe Timothy Liljegren fell to Toronto at 17th overall in this year’s draft. The Swedish defenseman should be outstanding in fantasy with his offensive prowess. Liljegren has amazing puck handling and skating abilities. He’s one of my favorite prospects because his ceiling is through the roof. Liljegren could become a #1 fantasy defenseman in time if things pan out.
Kasperi Kapanen is a personal favorite of mine. The main piece coming back in the Phil Kessel trade, Kapanen was outstanding for the Marlies last season with 43 points in 43 games. Kapanen actually came up in the playoffs and scored two goals against the Capitals despite limited minutes. He has the potential to be a top six forward but I don’t see the role for him soon. Perhaps he’s used as a trade chip for a defenseman but wherever he ends up, Kapanen should turn into a player who is a hold every year in fantasy.
High Floor, Low Ceiling – Travis Dermott looks to be the modern stay-at-home defenseman. He does have some offensive potential but he hasn’t shown it yet. Dermott had 24 points in 59 games for the Marlies last year. He’s a smart player who is Toronto’s third best prospect but isn’t the greatest fantasy asset.
Carl Grundstrom should be a solid two-way winger going forward. Think a Carl Hagelin type of game except with less speed but some more skill.
High Upside – Jeremy Bracco is small but there’s no denying his upside. Bracco had 83 points in 57 games in the OHL last season. I’m not his biggest fan but he could put it together and become an offensive force.
The Toronto prospect pool isn’t nearly as strong as it was but that’s obviously going to happen when you graduate the talent that they have.
That’s all for now guys. I’ll be back tomorrow with the Tampa Bay Lightning. That team has incredible fire power but has almost made some awful moves *cough Dan Girardi cough*. As always, please leave any questions or comments below. Thanks for reading, take care!