Maple Leafs Rookie Tournament Wrap-Up

September 12, 2017

By: Gordon Brown

We’re only a few days away from NHL training camps opening and that means affiliated rookie camps are wrapping up, too. This year’s annual Rookie Tournament took place over the weekend and featured a trio of teams; The Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, and Ottawa Senators.

In previous years it would have been four teams, but Pittsburgh decided to drop out in favour of playing with Buffalo’s rookies in their Prospects Challenge.

The tournament allowed each team to play each other once, with the Buds rookie squad finishing with an 0-1-1 record. A come-from-behind shootout loss at the hands of Ottawa prevented the team from picking up a win, despite leading by a score of 3-0 at one point.

It was a small slice of the future, meaning it’s certainly not the whole pie. Two games really isn’t a lot of time to prove what you can bring to the table, but it’s still something a team has to build off of.

Many players had their ups-and-downs, of course some had more than others. I guess the real question is, can any of the rookies make Toronto’s opening night roster?

No one was scrutinized more than Timothy Liljegren was this weekend. His performance saw mixed reviews over the course of the tournament, and although it may have been warranted, it truly means nothing in the grand scheme of his career development.

Some people had already written him off as a 1st Round bust following Friday’s match, despite showing glimpses of the high end skill he was drafted for. You could have sworn it was a completely different player out there on Sunday, who played a mostly solid game at both ends of the ice.

More so in the offensive end.

Liljegren posted an assist in Sunday’s game, but would still fall victim to some defensive mistakes as the game progressed. It’s clear there are some growing pains that need to be addressed before he is considered for a jump to the NHL, more specifically his defensive game. He’s 18-years-old, so we really shouldn’t be pushing for him to make a jump overly soon unless it’s absolutely justified. Even at that, it might only take a year or two of seasoning in the AHL because his skating is surely NHL-calibre. Maybe he proves me wrong and figures out how to defend on North American ice even sooner than that. He clearly has all the talent to do so.

The goalie battle seemed to be an enticing one, as Ian Scott and Kasmir Kaskisuo shared the crease. It leaned heavily in Kaskisuo’s favour until Scott posted a shutout performance of his own in the opening half of Sunday’s game. I like Kaskisuo’s potential at the NHL level, but his ceiling may only be as a backup. In the event the Maple Leafs need to call-up a goaltender this season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him considered.

It would be next-to-impossible for a forward to make the NHL jump, but I think the Leafs have a few gems on their way in Jeremy Bracco and Carl Grundstrom. Each showed what they can bring to the table, which is high-end skill in the case of Bracco and versatile grit from Grundstrom. Furthermore, several other defensive prospects demonstrated their prowess. Fedor Gordeev was a hulking presence and impressed for most of the weekend. He showed he can be a staple in his own zone, but there’s a pair of other defenders close to making the jump.

For the past year both Travis Dermott and Andrew Nielsen have been pegged as next-in-line to graduate to the Maple Leafs. It appears that statement still holds some truth. The only individual challenging them would be Liljegren, and I already explained he needs some more seasoning.

Dermott only dressed in Sunday’s game but looked to hold his own, and then some. His highly-responsible play should be enough for Toronto’s brass to consider him for a left-handed spot on the final defence pairing.

If Toronto were in need of a more offensive-minded rearguard, I would have suggested Nielsen, considering his strong point totals and power play skills. He did not have the best showcase over the course of the tournament, but still provided many glimpses of his ability. This would leave newly acquired Swedish defencemen, Andreas Borgman and Calle Rosén, as their competition for the final left-handed vacancy.

Realistically speaking, only a single rookie should be able to crack the Maple Leafs opening night roster, if any at all. It’s fairly evident this would have to be a defenceman, considering the amount of forward depth the roster contains. It should be a fun period filled with positional battles when Toronto’s annual Training Camp opens in Niagara Falls. Camp takes place from September 15th-17th, 2017.

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