With NHL training camps well underway and rosters beginning to take shape, potential lines are also crystallizing.
While many lines don’t last a single period, let alone long stretches of games, what follows are the likeliest combinations for the upcoming season when everyone is healthy.
Factoring in the injuries to Frazer McLaren and Colton Orr, expect newcomer Mason Raymond to get some minutes on either the third or fourth lines as the regular season gets underway, and the other two round into form. The lightning-quick Raymond may, in fact, become a bottom-six regular even when all the forwards are healthy.
With the number of new additions, and the promising play of some of the Leafs’ emerging stars, expect Randy Carlyle to continue to tinker with his lineup and to give quality minutes to those players who are playing at their best. In other words, these lines are certainly not written in stone.
Joe Colborne and Jay McClemment are both centres, but it seems likeliest that McClemment will play on the third line as a winger, while Colborne will start on the fourth line.
If these lines play to their potential, and the defence group continues to mature and improve as a whole, Leaf Nation has a lot to look forward to in 2013-14.
All regular stats are from nhl.com.
Advanced stats can be found at Behind the Net.
This line is unlikely to back away from anyone. There would be little mystery of an overarching role here, as this line would not play big minutes, but be expected to play a physical brand of hockey all over the ice. Colton Orr will not back down from anyone in the league.
Colborne seems destined for bigger things, but he can be eased into the NHL game in this role. There is plenty of size here to wreak havoc on the forecheck in particular.
This line is not likely to provide much, if any, offence. While not many fourth lines do, top teams like Boston, Detroit, Chicago and Los Angeles look for at least some limited offence from their fourth lines.
While Colborne potentially injects some much-needed skill to this trio, in a tight game, which there is sure to be plenty of, this line is not likely to be able to give Carlyle many minutes in the third period.
This line shapes up as a very good third line. Dave Bolland is a proven winner from his Chicago tenure, and he might be one of the top 10 trash-talkers in the NHL. He'll continue to get under the opposition's skin.
With another centre on the line, in Jay McClemment, this unit should make a lot of defensive zone starts and be counted on to win key faceoffs at important moments in the game. Nikolai Kulemin and Bolland could be important offensive contributors and also see some second-line minutes throughout the season.
Chemistry, at least in the season’s early going, could be an issue for these three. While there will be a lot of straightforward, uncomplicated play expected out of the group, meshing can still be elusive.
Given the difficult division that the Leafs are in, they cannot afford to have this line stumble at all as the season begins. In addition, with the compressed schedule due to the Sochi Olympics, third lines across the league will be leaned on even more than usual by coaches.
There are a few teams that would have this line as their top unit. This line has all kinds of potential to dominate the opposition.
If the first line is rolling as expected, this group could see a lot of second-pairing defencemen and second-tier forwards. Teams will do this at their peril as this trio will be attacking incessantly.
Nazem Kadri and David Clarkson had double-digit Relative Corsi numbers, and James Van Riemsdyk’s was a very respectable 6.00 in 2013. Expect these guys to have the puck a lot and to outshoot the opposition on a regular basis.
This line will be depended upon to play some of the most important minutes the Leafs have this year. Kadri, in particular, has not played this volume of minutes over a long stretch at the NHL level.
Clarkson is a veteran, yes, but playing in the pressure cooker that is Toronto, and also his hometown, will test him in new ways. Kadri has as much offensive upside as any young centreman in the game, but there is a very real possibility for him to regress this year, points-wise, given the expectations and added attention he faces.
This line has some great chemistry, based on last season, and has all the ingredients to be a superior first line. They will score a boatload of goals. Phil Kessel is slated to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and as a result, he will be motivated to be at his best all year.
Kessel is a great sniper, who takes a lot of shots. He finished in the top 10 in shots in the entire NHL in 2013. Bozak and Kadri may be moved between lines from time to time, but the organization does seem to like this unit’s chemistry.
The talented Joffrey Lupul needs to stay healthy and play the kind of hockey that may get him on Team Canada’s radar for the Sochi Olympics. Opponents will underestimate this line at their own peril.
Tyler Bozak offers a lot to a team, but he’s going to continue to see big, physical centres and top-pairing defence duos when he faces most opponents. At 6’0” and 195 pounds, Bozak will be outsized in many situations, as Kessel will be.
Bozak will also have Kadri breathing down his neck for more minutes, and if Kadri matches, or even improves, his play from last season, he’ll warrant first-line minutes regardless of the existing Bozak-Kessel chemistry.
While Lupul can play a physical brand of hockey when required, the line, as a whole, will face some challenges against the Atlantic Division’s most imposing defencemen, such as Zdeno Chara, Niklas Kronwall, Jared Cowen and Tyler Myers.