For the first time since Brian Burke took over the helm as GM, the Toronto Maple Leafs have a solid top-six forward group.
Phil Kessel, Tim Connolly, Joffrey Lupul, Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur and Nikolai Kulemin will be leaned upon to carry the offense next season.
Let’s examine what to expect from them in 2011-2012.
He’s been criticized for his laziness and for being a soft player, but at the end of the day, he’s still the Leafs' most talented scorer with three straight 30-goal campaigns.
Kessel is one of the fastest players in the league and has an absolute laser of a shot. He’s a perimeter player, though. He likes to take wrist shots from a distance.
Since he’s arrived in Toronto, Kessel has not been paired up with adequate line-mates until now. The experiment with Tyler Bozak and Joey Crabb is over. He will now have Joffrey Lupul and Tim Connolly on his line.
We have not yet seen the best of Phil Kessel. At 23, he still has a lot of untapped potential.
2011-2012 Projection: GP 82, G 42, A 31, P 73
Tim Connolly has never quite lived up to his expectations and isn’t considered a legitimate first-line centre by many. He played for the Buffalo Sabres for a good portion of his career and was not well liked by the fans, to say the least.
When healthy, Connolly is a great playmaker. The problem is that he’s had a hard time staying healthy over the years.
As a pass-first forward, he will prove to be a good compliment for Phil Kessel’s sniper mentality. They would be better suited for each other if both of them weren’t right-handed shots, though.
The 30-year-old is close to a point-per-game player and has great hands. He is also a solid penalty killer, something the Leafs sorely need.
Connolly has been given a great opportunity in Toronto. At his age, it may be the last one he gets. When healthy, Connolly will make the most of that opportunity this season.
2011-2012 Projection: GP 69, G 14, A 47, P 61
Joffrey Lupul had fit in quite nicely on the first line last season. It was a pleasant surprise to those that thought he was a salary dump in the trade with Anaheim.
After being drafted seventh overall, Lupul has also been seen as a bit of a disappointment. He hit rock bottom last season with the Anaheim Ducks when they had him playing bottom-line minutes. In Lupul’s defense, he was recovering from back surgery and the infection that came shortly after.
He has since recovered, and should be back in top shape come October.
Lupul is a big body and a physical player that should free up space for Kessel.
The gritty winger may never be a bona fide top-line player, but he could be a fixture on the Leafs' roster for a long time if he can rediscover the 20 to 30-goal form he had before his injury.
2011-2012 Projection: GP 79, G 22, A 26, P 48
What a revelation Grabovski was last year. It wasn’t long ago that most Leaf fans wanted him traded away for anything the Leafs could get. He is now the heart and soul of the team and one of their hardest workers.
Grabovski centres what is arguably the best second line in hockey right now. He scored 29 goals and 58 points last year on top of being a great face-off man and one of Toronto’s best two-way players.
Expect Grabovski to be lined up alongside Kulemin and MacArthur next season. Grabovski is the ideal second-line centre with his skill and compete level. He’s a 60-point player and may even reach 70 points one year.
2011-2012 Projection: GP 82, G 27, A 33, P 60
MacArthur was a nice surprise last season after he was signed to a one-year deal that turned out to be a bargain at $1.1 million.
He surprised everyone with a 21-goal, 62-point season. It’s now time for him to prove he is not a one-year wonder.
Despite his breakout season, he is still largely inconsistent. He scores goals in bunches, evidenced by the fact he scored five in his first four games. MacArthur trailed off at the end of the year, though, with only two in his last 20 games.
It does not happen very often that every player on a team has a good year. This is going to be a good season for most of the Leafs, but don’t be surprised if MacArthur regresses.
2011-2012 Projection: GP 82, G 14, A 31, P 45
He along with Grabovski are Toronto’s most complete forwards. There have been people out there even comparing Kulemin to Pavel Datsyuk. While that may be premature, Kulemin is still a solid player, and at 25, he has yet to reach his full potential.
He scored 30 goals for the Leafs last season and should produce 25 to 35 goals a year for the foreseeable future.
He is a tough player to play against. The winger is tough to knock off the puck, and he always finds a way to chip in, even if he isn’t scoring goals.
Kulemin is one of the few Leafs that has the strength to play along the boards. He’s got wheels and also plays a pretty good defensive game.
Kulemin is one of those wingers every team would love to have. He has skill, good size and plays well at both ends of the ice.
2011-2012 Projection: GP 82, G 32, A 27, P 59