Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel will need to put up great numbers if the Leafs plan on making the playoffs
Toronto Maple Leafs will be memorable. With hundreds of questions, multiple rookies and new players, the potential to make the playoffs is finally there and with an offence that could either be good or horrific, the coming season will be nothing short of interesting and exciting.
If the Leafs plan on making the playoffs in 2011, the team's goaltending duo of Jonas Gustavsson and Jean-Sebastien Giguere will need to be absolutely outstanding. Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin will also need to turn in good seasons on the back-end, something that they didn't do in 2009-2010, granted Komisarek only played in 34 games.
Entering the 2010-2011 season, there are several questions surrounding the Maple Leafs. Here are just a few of them:
Will the Leafs finally make the playoffs?
Will Tyler Bozak be able to score 50 points?
Will Kris Versteeg flourish with more ice time in Toronto?
Will Phil Kessel score 40 goals?
Will the penalty kill be better?
Will the power play be better?
Will Nazem Kadri make the team? How well will he play if he does?
Fans and writers alike will look for those questions to be answered during the season. Although a case could be made that some of them have already been answered, ultimately we'll have to wait to see how things play out.
The Leafs finally have a chance to make the playoffs for the first time in years. It has been five seasons since the team has last made the playoffs in 2004, the year before the infamous lockout.
However, if the Leafs want to make the playoffs this year, they're going to need both the young and new players to live up to expectations.
This means 60+ points from Kris Versteeg, 35-40 points, and an intimidating presence from Colby Armstrong and 40 points from Nazem Kadri (if he plays a full season). Luca Caputi, who has had a great preseason, will be expected to score at least 15 goals this season, while Tyler Bozak, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin will all be expected to put up at least 50, 55, and 45 points respectively.
Perhaps the biggest star in the Leafs' lineup, Phil Kessel, will be expected to score 40 goals. Kessel has twice scored 30 or more goals, once with the Bruins (36) and once with the Maple Leafs (30). With a play maker like Bozak, who scored 27 points in 37 games last season, 40 goals from the 6-foot, 202 pound sniper finally seems like a reality in Toronto.
Versteeg, Armstrong, Kadri, Caputi, Bozak, Grabovski, Kulemin and Kessel will all play a huge role in proving everyone wrong about the Leafs offence. As of now, almost everyone is writing off the Leafs offensive skill, saying that the team's top two lines are either too weak in size and strength, too weak in skill, or not experienced enough.
Although it's obvious the Leafs still need another top-six forward, preferably a winger, the offence could still prove to be good, but not great.
Ron Wilson and company will also look for improved seasons from plenty of defencemen, including Komisarek, Beauchemin, Carl Gunnarsson, and Luke Schenn.
Komisarek, who didn't score a goal and managed just four assists in 2009-2010, played in only 34 games due to a shoulder injury. In those 34 games, he also posted a +/- rating of -9. If Komisarek can return to form this season, he will be a vital fixture on defence for the Leafs.
Francois Beauchemin, meanwhile, played in all 82 games, but also struggled to play the way he was known for in Anaheim. Scoring five goals and 21 assists for a total of 26 points, the 30-year-old's offensive statistics were right around where they normally are. His plus/minus, however, was not. With a rating of -13, Beauchemin was often picked on by fans and the media when the Leafs were in the midst of a bad skid.
As for Gunnarsson and Schenn, the raised expectations have to do with nothing but development. Even though they all went through rough patches last season, both were impressive.
Gunnarsson began playing for the big club midway through the season. He appeared in 43 games, scoring three goals and 12 assists while going +8. Schenn, a fellow defenceman, scored 17 of his 31-career points last season, playing in all but two games.
Goalie Jonas Gustavsson is also expected to improve upon a strong rookie campaign.
Gustavsson was known for big time saves and keeping the Leafs in games last season, but he was also very inconsistent. The Monster is definitely capable of improving upon his 2009-2010 goals against average of 2.87 and save percentage of .902. He also has a great veteran goalie to learn from in JS Giguere.
Giguere, who will be entering his 13th NHL season, is likely to see split time, sharing the duties with Gustavsson. The 33-year-old native of Montreal, Quebec played in 35 games last season for the Ducks and Maple Leafs, with a goals against average of 2.85 and a save percentage of .907.
As you can see, the Maple Leafs are set when it comes to goaltending and defence this season. If the offence can significantly improve upon the 210 goals they scored last season and a league-worst 14% power play conversion rate, this young team is destined to make the playoffs.
If the offence is just as good as or worse than last season, however, then don't expect the Leafs to be any higher than 12th in the Eastern Conference standings after all 82 games.
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