As the Toronto Maple Leafs head into the summer, focus naturally turns to how different their lineup is going to be next season. We know there are absolute locks to return – star forwards Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, veteran defensemen Morgan Rielly and T.J. Brodie – but Leafs’ management is almost assuredly going to include some younger players into the mix in order to make a full roster under the NHL salary cap.
Which young players are going to get more of a look next year? That’s our focus below.
Here are five Maple Leafs likely to see more NHL ice time in 2022-23:
Nick Robertson, LW: The 20-year-old Robertson got a brief taste of NHL competition this past season, scoring one goal in 10 games. He spent the majority of the year with the American League’s Toronto Marlies, scoring 16 goals and 28 points in 28 games. With Toronto needing help on the wing – especially with the probable departure of unrestricted free agent winger Ilya Mikheyev – could get a longer stint with the NHL team. As has been said before of him, Robertson is not the kind of player you put on the third or fourth line, so the situation will have to be specifically fitting for him to be recalled and kept on the Leafs’ roster long-term. But if he’s playing alongside center John Tavares on the second line and chipping in power-play minutes, Robertson could have a breakout year and establish himself as a bona fide NHLer.
Nick Abruzzese, C: Abruzzese signed an NHL contract late last season and played nine NHL games with the Leafs, scoring one goal in that span. The 23-year-old center won’t get high-quality chances on the first or second-line this coming season, but he’s a very cheap ($850,000 yearly salary) option for Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe to use on the third or fourth line. Abruzzese is well–regarded by Toronto brass and may get some AHL seasoning before the year is through, but he’s not going to be rushed into situations he’s not ready for. Still lots of landing strip left for him to earn a permanent NHL job.
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Kristians Rubins, D: Rubins got his first NHL experience last season, playing three games with the Leafs. It’s going to be very difficult for the 24-year-old Latvian to leapfrog past Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren and earn a job with the Leafs out of training camp, so expect him to begin the season with the Marlies. But if any Leafs blueliner is injured, or a trade is made, Rubins could well be the player Keefe turns to as a depth performer. He’s a restricted free agent this summer, which makes him an even more attractive asset for Leafs GM Kyle Dubas to keep an eye on.
Carl Dahlstrom, D: Like Rubins and Abruzzese, Dahlstrom played a few games with the Leafs last year, generating two assists in three NHL games. At 27, he’s not a high-ranking prospect, but in the right set of circumstances – most of which involve injuries to regular Leafs’ D-men – he could play a small role on the third Toronto defensive pairing. Not an impact player by any means, but a decent-enough footsoldier.
Joseph Woll, G: Woll also got his first taste of NHL action last season, posting a .911 save percentage and 2.77 goals-against average in four games. The 23-year-old’s AHL numbers (3.36 G.A.A.,.907 SP) weren’t spectacular, but keep in mind he was playing on a sub-par Marlies squad. Woll will need to beat out Erik Kallgren for the Leafs’ backup goaltending job, but that’s a possibility. Certainly, the opportunity is there for him to make the most of.
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