Toronto Maple Leafs: Statistical Projections for Their Top 6 Forwards in 2012-13
Although the Toronto Maple Leafs don't possess a superstar such as Steven Stamkos or Evgeni Malkin, their top-six forwards have proven themselves capable of lighting the lamp with regularity.
Beyond sniper Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul experienced a resurgence last season much to the delight of Leafs' brass.
Mikhail Grabovski anchors the second line and provides adequate secondary scoring.
The off-season addition of James van Riemsdyk provides the Leafs with another scoring option up front, as well as the big-bodied forward they've been lacking in recent years.
While the aforementioned players will be entrenched within the top six, the final two spots are up for grabs.
Tyler Bozak has found some success playing alongside Phil Kessel, but he isn't the answer to Toronto's No. 1 center question. Nikolai Kulemin had a disastrous 2011-12 campaign and will be expected to rebound.
Clarke MacArthur and Matt Frattin have both seen time on the top two lines, while prospect Nazem Kadri has the skill to contribute if given an expanded role.
For the purposes of this article, the top-six forward group will be comprised of Kessel, Lupul, Grabovski, van Riemsdyk, Bozak and Kulemin.
Of course, injuries, poor play and other unforeseen circumstances generally arise throughout the NHL season. This often means a team's top-six forwards are generally in flux and players move in and out of the lineup, or up and down on the depth chart.
However, the statistical projections assume they play a majority of the season within the top-six and don't experience a shortened season due to injury or a lockout.
Kessel came into his own last season besting his previous career-highs in goals, assists and points as he scored at a point-per-game clip. His 82 points were good for sixth overall in league scoring.
Randy Carlyle-led teams tend to play less of a run-and-gun game than Ron Wilson's. However Kessel is the focal point of the Leafs offense and will get his chances regardless of what type of game his team plays.
A preternatural goal-scorer, Kessel is dangerous off the rush and in tight areas within the offensive zone as his release is quick and deceptive.
Although he can be intimidated at times by physical play, he has proven he is an elite sniper and will once again pace the Leafs offensively.
82 GP, 35 G, 40 A, 75 Pts., 22 PIM, -8
Joffrey Lupul enjoyed a resurgence last season after battling injuries for the better part of two seasons.
A career-high 67 points were accumulated as he played at just over a point-per-game pace before his season ended prematurely (due to injury).
The upcoming season will be an interesting one for Lupul. He is playing for Randy Carlyle, with whom he had little in common with in Anaheim, and he is an upcoming unrestricted free agent playing for a contract.
Although his relationship with Carlyle was strained in Anaheim, Lupul will remain a fixture amongst the Leafs' top six and should continue to be a contributor, although not at the level he displayed last year. A return to his decent (but not amazing) point totals is likely as career-year outputs are difficult to maintain.
72 GP, 23 G, 35 A, 58 Pts., 52 PIM, -6
As the attached video shows, Mikhail Grabovski certainly has a flair for the dramatic.
In terms of pure skill, Grabovski is the total package. He can skate and he possesses great stickhandling ability. He has natural scoring instincts, as well as a great shot.
The problem with Grabovski is the inconsistency that has plagued him for much of his career. He has improved in that regard and become a more reliable scorer, but at times he leaves you wanting more.
After signing a long-term contract extension, Grabovski should be the Leafs' No. 2 pivot for the foreseeable future. He'll need to pay attention to his own end under Carlyle's regime, but top-six minutes and power play time will equate to 50-plus points once again.
77 GP, 25 G, 28 A, 53 Pts., 54 PIM, +2
James Van Riemsdyk
The newest addition to the Leafs' collection of forwards, James van Riemsdyk brings size and skill to the table. These are things both general manager Brian Burke and coach Randy Carlyle covet in their players.
As a young player yet to reach his prime, van Riemsdyk possesses an abundance of potential and figures to improve upon his career-high of 40 points, which he posted during the 2010-11 season.
After being overlooked at times in Philadelphia thanks to their impressive depth and due to his injury woes, the opportunity to play meaningful minutes will translate into higher point totals for JVR.
A move to the center position is a possibility, but wherever he lines up he'll contribute as he continues to improve as a player.
76 GP, 23 G, 28 A, 51 Pts., 38 PIM, -2
Bozak has improved his point totals the past three seasons as he became more accustomed to the NHL's style of play.
Although he has developed some chemistry with Phil Kessel, Bozak has been miscast as a top-line center by the Leafs.
His point totals aren't completely the result of playing alongside skilled players and receiving ample ice time despite his two-way limitations, but his prized position between Kessel and Lupul had a lot to do with him posting 47 points last season.
Bozak is better suited for second-line duty, but with Mikhail Grabovski locking that position down, he may once again get the opportunity to center the Leafs' top line.
If James van Riemsdyk is moved to centre, Bozak may find himself on the outside looking in with respect to the top six (especially if his defensive game doesn't improve). That said, he should see enough ice time to help out offensively.
78 GP, 15 G, 27 A, 42 Pts., 16 PIM, -8
Kulemin potted 30 goals and accumulated 57 points in 2010-11, but he couldn't bottle that magic. As such, he suffered through a miserable 2011-12 campaign and his offensive contributions were few and far between.
As a strong two-way player who isn't afraid to play a physical game, Kulemin will endear himself to head coach Randy Carlyle. His effort alone should be enough to net him a top-six job. Although he isn't a go-to scorer, last season's poor showing was simply an aberration.
If James van Riemsdyk isn't moved to center, there is a very good possibility that Kulemin and JVR will flank Mikhail Grabovski on the second line. With the size and skill that potential line would possess, Kulemin would be no stranger to scoring chances. He'll just need to pull the trigger more often.
80 GP, 24 G, 24 A, 48 Pts., 20 PIM, +5
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