Power Ranking Toronto Maple Leafs' Top 6 Forwards for 2014-15 Season
The Toronto Maple Leafs have been busy in the offseason; however, the top-six forward group has remained intact for the most part.
The team leaned upon the group most nights in 2013-14. It's clear that Toronto's brass believes strengthening the bottom six will allow the top offensive players to play more quality minutes in 2014-15.
Considering possession stats, basic offensive stats and the ability to play solid two-way hockey, let's power rank the Leafs' top six forwards.
6. David Clarkson
David Clarkson's 2013-14 campaign was one to forget in many ways. It began with a lengthy suspension and ended in both personal and team disappointment.
Clarkson never got on track last year with just five goals and 11 points in 60 games. At times he played a physical brand of hockey and disrupted the flow for the other team in the neutral zone, but he looked like a fish out of water on most nights.
His five-on-five Corsi number of 42.4 percent was better than a lot of Toronto forwards, but it needs to be significantly better next season if the Leafs want to be a playoff contender.
He was minus-14 and had a shooting percentage of 4.9 over the course of the season. There's reason to believe that he'll have better puck luck this upcoming season, as his career shooting percentage is 9.0.
Expect Clarkson to be better in 2014-15, but he's still No. 6 among the Leafs' top-six forward group.
5. Tyler Bozak
Tyler Bozak's numbers were relatively strong in 2013-14.
The Regina, Saskatchewan, native had 49 points in 58 games. He had 19 goals and a 21.1 shooting percentage, which is likely to come down significantly in 2014-15.
Bozak centred the top line, and expect him to do the same this season. Bozak was plus-two in 2013-14, and his five-on-five Corsi number of 42.9 percent was better than the average in Toronto, but nowhere near what the Leafs need from their top pivot.
His two-way play is inspired, and other forwards would do well to mimic Bozak's commitment to defensive play.
Bozak is in over his head as the Leafs No.1 centre, but if he can keep producing at a similar rate in 2013-14, the Leafs might be competitive in the NHL Atlantic.
4. Joffrey Lupul
Fort Saskatchewan native Joffrey Lupul scored 22 goals in 2013-14 and matched that total with 22 assists. He played in 69 games last season and earned a minus-15 rating to go along with 44 penalty minutes.
The hard-shooting left winger had a five-on-five Corsi number of 42.5 percent, which was down two full points from the 2012-13 season.
Lupul will never be confused with a defensive winger, but he's paid to put the puck in the net. If he remains healthy in 2014-15, it will be interesting to see if he and Nazem Kadri make another leap forward offensively.
3. Nazem Kadri
Nazem Kadri's name comes up in trade rumours constantly. Some might view this as him being expendable, while I would argue that it speaks to the number of teams that would be more than willing to take Kadri off the Leafs' hands.
There is no question that he needs to bring his A-game to the rink more consistently. When he's playing near his peak, his best play is far superior to Tyler Bozak's.
Kadri had 50 points in 78 games last season, even though he played less than 18 minutes per night. Kadri was minus-11 last year, but his five-on-five Corsi percentage of 45.3 percent was quite strong when compared to his teammates.
The London, Ontario native is just 23 years old and is capable of being a point-per-game player in the NHL for the next decade.
He's at his best when he's chirping opponents and playing with a chip on his shoulder. He can back it up, and it's always frustrating for opponents to have to endure this from a talented opponent.
If the commitment is there, there's every reason to believe that 2014-15 will be a breakout year for him.
2. James Van Riemsdyk
James van Riemsdyk has developed into a top NHL winger. He was excellent at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and was great offensively for the Leafs in 2013-14.
Van Riemsdyk had 30 goals last season, which was a huge jump in production for him. He had never scored more than 21 in a season. His shooting percentage was 10.8, and his career average is 10.7, so there was no luck involved last year.
If he continues to increase his shot totals, there's reason to believe that he could target 40 as a possible goal total.
At 6'3" and 200 pounds, the former Philadelphia Flyers draft pick has the size and skill to be an elite forward for the next five years. He's great on the rush and can grind it out along the wall when needed.
His five-on-five Corsi number was 44.2, and while it didn't approach his career best of 56.4 in 2010-11 with the Flyers, it's a number that could improve as he continues to hone his two-way game.
He and Phil Kessel have come together to form one of the league's better offensive duos.
1. Phil Kessel
Winger Phil Kessel is not only the Leafs' best forward, but he has become one of the top forwards in the NHL.
Kessel was fifth in goals with 37 in 2013-14 and sixth overall in points with 80 in 82 games. All of this was done playing with a centre who most neutral observers would say is, at best, a second-line NHL centre.
Kessel is one of the most dynamic offensive threats in the game who likes to score off the rush with speed.
He has exceptional vision, and his sublime creativity is unquestioned. His release is lightning-quick, and his accuracy is underrated.
He was minus-five in 2013-14, and his Corsi percentage of 44.1 wasn't outstanding, but once again it was better than the Leafs' average possession numbers.
At 26 years of age, Kessel is entering his peak offensive years. If he stays healthy and JVR has another great year, expect Kessel to set career highs in both goals and points in 2014-15.
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