For Leaf fans, 2011 has brought a glimmer of hope that the 2011-2012 NHL season may prove to be a year where their beloved franchise competes for a playoff spot throughout the entire season. It appears James Reimer may be the goalie of the future, and he will likely get the chance to prove that statement next season by starting with the big club.
Nazem Kadri appears to have been humbled by his first experience in the NHL and has returned a much more complete player. Also, callups like Joey Crabb, Darryl Boyce and Matt Lashoff appear to have brought a greater work ethic to the bottom six forwards and the last defence pairing.
Through statistical analysis, we will see the top three forwards and the top two defencemen in terms of defensive play revealed.
This has been Schenn's third NHL season, and after a sophomore slump, he appears to be back on track to becoming an everyday shutdown NHL defenceman.
Lately he has also shown some offensive flair at times and appears to be much more comfortable joining the rush. However, we should never confuse Schenn to be the second coming of Chris Pronger. He has molded his game into that of a hard-nosed defensive player with some offensive instincts, much like Jason Smith was for the Edmonton Oilers. We are certainly looking at a big part of the Leafs' future in Schenn.
Thus far this season, he has played in 78 games and has 239 hits, 163 blocked shots, 124 shots, 91 giveaways and 37 takeaways.
As can be seen by his giveaway total, he still has some work to do. But he is still a very young defenceman, expect him to improve on this total next season.
The much-talked about Leaf captain has shown us all the leadership and play that Brian Burke expected from Phaneuf when he acquired him from the Flames. He has steadily improved his game during the last half of the season, and one can only hope that he carries this over into the 2011-2012 season.
Dion has 176 hits, 116 blocked shots, 44 giveaways, 29 takeaways and 178 shots during 62 games this season.
His decision making has improved greatly of late, and this has seen his giveaway total come down. Although he can still be a high risk-reward type of player much of the time, he has been effective in his role recently.
Say what you want about Phaneuf, but I would rather have him in a Leafs jersey than any of Matt Stajan, Ian White or Niklas Hagman.
After a year off last season to deal with injuries, Lupul has been steadily increasing his level of play. Suddenly his $4 million cap hit does not appear to be such bad value. Look for him to come into next season and start much better after having a healthy body to train with all summer.
Lupul has seen action in 24 games with Toronto this season and has 36 hits, 17 blocked shots, nine giveaways, 11 takeaways and 61 shots.
While he has been more effective offensively of late, the stats show that he is also a solid two-way player with some grit. I remember hearing about how "soft" he was as a player and how much like Kessel he was all over the radio when he came to town. Thus far the numbers have proved those critics wrong. I see Lupul being a solid 20-30 goal scorer for the Leafs in the coming years.
With his $3 million contract, many wondered if Burke overpaid to get Armstrong. But with 50 games played and the Leafs having a winning record when he is on the ice, one can see why Burke was willing to grant him that cap hit.
Armstrong is a solid two-way player who gets under the skin of the opponents, and unlike other pests, he can handle himself in a fight. Although, he will need to find a way to stay healthy next season for the Leafs to realize his full value.
In 50 games played he has 88 hits, 28 blocked shots, 19 giveaways, 34 takeaways and 69 shots.
If the Leafs ever make it to the playoffs, look for Armstrong to be a key contributor on the third line.
He has become perhaps the Leafs' best and most trusted two-way player who can score and help prevent goals late in the game. He has developed into a solid second line winger who can play in all situations. Burke should get him signed long-term as he will be more valuable as he develops his offensive game. He and Grabovski seem to have great chemistry together.
In 78 games he has 98 hits, 46 blocked shots, 27 giveaways, 35 takeaways and 168 shots. Do the Leafs have a young Jere Lethinen in the making here? Only time will tell.
Honourable mention goes to Joey Crabb, Mike Brown, Tim Brent and Matt Lashoff since his recent callup.
Joey Crabb has played 44 games and has 89 hits, 19 blocked shots, 12 giveaways, 21 takeaways and 47 shots.
Mike Brown has played 46 games and has 100 hits, 24 blocked shots, 14 giveaways, 10 takeaways and 55 shots.
Tim Brent has played 77 games and has 102 hits, 57 blocked shots, 20 giveaways, 23 takeaways and 59 shots.
Matt Lashoff has played 7 games and has 3 hits, 9 blocked shots, 2 giveaways, four takeaways and six shots.