The Toronto Maple Leafs have just barely passed the quarter-mark of the season, and they still stand at the top of the Northeast Division to some extent. They have been able to succeed because of contributions from their key players, as well as some you wouldn’t expect.
That being said, the Leafs have had their problems. Players have not lived up to expectations laid on them, and the team’s penalty kill is still one of the worst in the league despite a recent hot streak.
Colby Armstrong, Colton Orr, Matt Frattin and Jay Rosehill were not graded for various reasons.
Who has succeeded? Who has disappointed? Let’s find out.
Is there any question that Phil Kessel deserves this rank? He has lit the league on fire, leading the league in goals and points. His linemates are making him better, and he is also making his linemates better. His overall game has improved, as his defense is actually pretty good this year.
Dion Phaneuf is finally looking like the player that he was in his early years in Calgary. He has been a great leader for the team, and his offensive game is returning.
Although he has been out of the lineup for a month now, James Reimer still deserves this rank. In the five complete games he has played, Reimer was yet to lose a game in regulation. Sure, he would have lost by now if he never got hurt, but based on the small sample of game time, he gets the “A."
No one could have ever expected the output that Joffrey Lupul has had this year. When he was acquired from Anaheim last season, it was widely perceived that he was just a salary dump that Toronto had to take on to acquire Jake Gardiner. He has exceeded all expectations and has found a fit alongside Phil Kessel.
The surprise of training camp, Jake Gardiner has continued to be one of the Leafs best defensemen. He is consistently one of the leaders in ice time each night and is proving that he belongs in the NHL. His offensive stats might not be there yet, but they’ll come eventually.
Acquired from the Colorado Avalanche just prior the draft, John-Michael Liles was brought in to help with the Leafs power play, and he has done just that. Forming a great first pairing with Dion Phaneuf, the Leafs power play is currently ranked third in the league. It being a contract year for him, Liles is definitely looking like he could be a long-term fixture for the Leafs.
When David Steckel was brought in just prior to the start of the regular season, it wasn’t looked at as a big move. While not being a big contributor on the score sheet, Steckel has been one of the league’s top men in the faceoff circle. He has helped the Leafs penalty kill to an extent.
At the beginning of the season, Tyler Bozak was moved down to the third line, a place where many hockey experts believed he belonged. Then Tim Connolly went down with an injury, and Bozak found himself right back on the first line. This year, however, he has upped his game and is performing admirably. If he continues to play like this, I don’t see any reason to take him off the line.
Carl Gunnarsson has quietly been one of the better defensemen on the Leafs. Of course, he is paired with Dion Phaneuf, and it’s hard to look bad when you’re paired with one of the league’s best defensemen at the time.
After getting off to a slow start to the season, Mikhail Grabovski was starting to get his game back before he went down with an injury. When he returns to the lineup, he might find himself on the third line with the success that Tyler Bozak and Tim Connolly are having on their current lines.
No longer Leafs Nation’s favourite whipping boy, Mike Komisarek was playing his best hockey in a Maple Leafs jersey before he suffered a broken arm. I never thought I would say this, but the Leafs are going to miss Komisarek’s contribution for the two months that he is projected to be out.
Although he has struggled at times this season, Jonas Gustavsson is playing possibly the best hockey of his NHL career the past few games. He has helped to keep the Leafs afloat in the absence of James Reimer.
Mike Brown is one of the most important players on the Maple Leafs. I see him as a less offensive version of Darcy Tucker. He is the player that jumps in to defend his teammates when the other team takes advantage of them and fights when the need arises.
Another member of the MacRussian line that struggled to begin the season, Clarke MacArthur went on the hottest streak of any of the players on that line. He has started to play better alongside Tim Connolly, so maybe he can find his offensive game that has seemed to slow down.
A pleasant surprise to start the season, Matthew Lombardi shocked a lot of people when he made his season debut in the first game of the season. Not only that, but he scored the first goal of the Leafs season. He has slowed down to be certain, but he has helped the lineup.
One of the bigger disappointments of the Leafs’ season, Luke Schenn found it hard to live up to the new contract that he was awarded on the eve of training camp. He found himself not playing the way that made him so successful last year. He has turned his game around recently though, so by the time the
All-Star Game comes around his grade might be a little higher.
Ben Scrivens was given a chance to get his NHL career started when Jonas Gustavsson started to struggle in relief of James Reimer. He didn’t play that badly, giving the Leafs a chance to win most nights.
Although he has played well when he has played, the fact that Tim Connolly has not remained injury-free is what has hurt his ranking. When he was signed, Leafs management was hoping that his injury-prone days were behind him. That was not the case, as he was injured even before the season started.
Nikolai Kulemin has not gotten off to the start that he hoped for to say the least. Scoring 30 goals last season for the first time, it was believed that Kulemin would again be a good source of secondary scoring for the Leafs. However, he only has two goals on the season, and the breaks just have not been going his way this season.
The last free-agent signing of the summer for the Maple Leafs, Phillippe Dupuis has been a staple on the fourth line and penalty kill. He has hasn’t been that bad, but he hasn’t been that good either.
Cody Franson has improved his play since the injury to Mike Komisarek, but before that, he found himself in the press box on most nights. When he did play, he was by far the worst defenseman on the ice for the Leafs. He seems to be turning it around so let’s hope that continues.