Ranking the 5 Most Crucial Players to Toronto Maple Leafs' Playoff Hopes
With the Toronto Maple Leafs playoff-bound for the first time in nearly a decade, excitement is picking up in hockey's unofficial capital.
Though the Leafs' opponent hasn't been sorted out as of yet, Toronto will be looking to close out its season on a winning note to gather some momentum for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
And while it will take then entire team to emerge victorious, there are some players who will be relied upon more to help push Toronto through to the next round.
Here are Toronto's five most important players heading into the 2013 postseason.
5. Jay McClement
While Jay McClement may not seem like seem like one of Toronto's standout players, the role he plays is a vital one.
As Toronto's leading penalty killer, McClement is responsible for helping Toronto maintain one of the league's best penalty-killing units.
He's also one of the team's veterans at 30 years old.
Take him out of the lineup and you lose one of the team's most versatile forwards, one of its best forecheckers as well as a player who helps with the possession game.
Make no mistake, Jay McClement is going to be one of the most important players on Toronto's roster come May.
4. Joffrey Lupul
Joffrey Lupul is another critical piece for the Leafs as they embark on their first postseason journey in a decade.
As one of Toronto's premier offensive threats, Lupul is an imposing figure on the ice.
Check out the video above to see how gifted he is and what he brings to the ice game in and game out.
As one of the energy leaders on the team, Lupul also helps pump up the entire team (though sometimes that pent-up energy does lead to some penalties).
When Lupul is healthy and on his game, he has the potential to be a game changer for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
3. Phil Kessel
With 48 points in Toronto's first 45 games, Phil Kessel is once again Toronto's leading scorer and has secured his second consecutive point-per-game season.
With 16 goals, Kessel is third on the team, trailing Nazem Kadri and James van Riemsdyk by just two scores. With 45 games played, Kessel is on pace for 29 goals over the course of an 82-game season.
His 32 assists are a testament to just how good of a playmaker Kessel has become, and he has become a much more accountable forward when it comes to his backchecking duties.
Though the Leafs do have several offensive weapons, if Kessel were to struggle in the postseason it would be extremely hard for Toronto to make it out of the first round.
2. Dion Phaneuf
It goes without saying that Dion Phaneuf is an absolute workhorse and an incredibly important cog in the Toronto Maple Leafs lineup.
Replacing those kinds of minutes in an already shaky six-man defense corps would be impossible.
We all saw how much even Phaneuf struggled on Toronto's top pairing when a defenseman like Carl Gunnarsson was out—now imagine the Leafs lost Phaneuf.
That would be a recipe for disaster.
1. James Reimer
There's no doubt that the most important player for the Toronto Maple Leafs this postseason is netminder James Reimer.
For just about the entire regular season, Reimer has been a rock for the Maple Leafs, recording a 2.41 goals-against average and stopping 92.6 percent of all shots directed his way.
With the Leafs being 28th in shots against per game and 29th in shot differential per contest, Toronto will need Reimer's success to continue into the playoffs.
We all know great goaltending is one of the cornerstones of making a deep postseason run. Hopefully Reimer can be great well into the 2013 postseason.
Who do you think Toronto's most important players are as the postseason nears? Comment below with your choice.