Last summer, I did a series that went over all of the Leafs who were likely to play in the NHL that season and explored the floors and ceilings of their upcoming season. And, in the content starved month of August, I’ve decided to bring it back again.
Much like last time, I’ll be looking at the best and worst-case scenarios for all of the Leafs, and in the best-case scenarios, assuming that they won’t be traded and they will be healthy. Obviously, that won’t happen, but it’s easier to assume in this case.
One thing I will be adding is that I will also look at last year’s evaluations and see if they were closer to their floor or ceiling, to give a better idea as to what to expect.
Today we will be looking at the heavily revamped blueline that the Leafs will be putting out this year.
What happened last year? Last year, Rielly had a career year with 20 goals and 72 points last year, and even got some Norris consideration for his play. My ceiling had him at another 50 point season while improving defensively, and he beat that total while not really improving defensively. He did better than I thought, but not the part of his game that I thought it would be.
Ceiling: I mean, at 25 now, what happened last year was his ceiling. He proved that on a really good team, he could keep up with the play, and did so by playing at a point per game pace for most of the season.
At this point, the only way his ceiling could get higher is if he gets better defensively, but at 25, that’s highly unlikely, and he’s kind of established himself as an offensive defenseman who can hold his own in top minutes.
But, he put up 72 points last year, who’s to say he can’t this year?
Floor: Actually, regression would like a word. While his elevated point totals aren’t all luck (he actually had fewer power play points than last year despite a 20 point increase in total points), one big thing is his shooting percentage.
Rielly saw a 9% shooting percentage last year, much higher than his 5.2% career average. While the two year prior he shot under his career average, he’s not going to pot 20 goals next year. What we’re likely to see is him shoot closer to his career average, which when he does that, usually results in about 10 goals.
Overall, I don’t think he’ll have as many assists either, so it’s likely he drops back down to his usual 40-50 point pace he has throughout his career.
What happened last year? N/A
Ceiling: Definitely the biggest addition to the blueline is Tyson Barrie, who is kind of like Morgan Rielly, but he shoots right. Like Rielly, he had a career year last year with 59 points on an Avalanche team that saw some of their young stars break out. All that tells me is that if you put him on a team with offense, he can put up points.
Depending on the role he plays with the team, it wouldn’t be too outlandish to say that he could have a year similar to last year. At 28, he’s in his prime, so I wouldn’t expect any massive steps up at this point, but performing as he has before isn’t bad either.
So yeah, I’m not going to be too creative with this one. Maybe he actually cracks the 60 point mark, but something in the 50s is very much the ceiling for Barrie.
Floor: Of course, there’s a chance he could struggle as well. Whether it’s because of the change of scenery, or maybe if he’s in a reduced role, we might see him do a little bit worse.
Of course, there’s also concern about his defensive game, but it’s kind of like Rielly. As long as they aren’t the same pair a lot, it shouldn’t be concerning.
I’m going to be somewhat reasonable with my floor as well, and say that it’s possible that Barrie struggles out of the gate, and only gets about 40 points, but then is in much better form once playoffs roll around.
What happened last year? N/A
Ceiling: The Leafs big addition last year was a huge improvement for the blueline, and created a shutdown pair that not only played pretty well for the Leafs against the Bruins, but also managed to make Nikita Zaitsev a tradeable asset.
It might not have seemed like it, but Muzzin also had 16 points in the 30 regular season games, and when not playing on really bad Kings teams, has been a 40 point defenseman, while also being an excellent shutdown defenseman.
So, at age 30, I wouldn’t say he’s old enough for age to factor, it’s pretty reasonable to expect a 40 point season from Muzzin while being the go to shutdown defenseman for the Leafs. A lot better than Ron Hainsey, eh?
Floor: This is a hard one because Muzzin is pretty consistent, so maybe he has one of his off years and only has 30 points, or age does play a factor and he gets a bit worse, but honestly, that’s not too much worse than his ceiling.
What happened last year? After a solid rookie season, Dermott definitely struggled a bit more in his sophomore season, but not to extent that it would be concerning for his development. He was closer to my floor for him last year, but that was pretty easy to call if he was still on the bottom pair, which he was come playoff time.
Ceiling: Depending on what happens with Cody Ceci, Dermott’s flexibility to play on the right side could open up an opportunity for him to play in the top four on whatever pair Barrie isn’t on.
But, knowing Babcock, he’s not going to hand it to him, so Dermott would have to really break out to prove it, and an injury to start the season isn’t going to help Dermott make his case.
It’s not impossible though, so I’m going to set his ceiling at cracking the top four, and maybe hitting 30 points, but the injury might not help that part.
Floor: Dermott probably has the biggest gap between ceiling and floor, where his floor could very much be that the ends up stuck on the bottom pair again, and just ends up being a very useful third pair defenseman, which isn’t a bad thing either depth wise.
But he has the potential to be better, so it’d be nice to not see him on the bottom pair again. But, considering the depth chart, that might not be his choice.
So, I’ll set Dermott’s floor as what last year was, still on the bottom pair, and maybe hitting 20 points.
What happened last year? N/A
Ceiling: Yeah, he’s someone we have on the team now.
Well, considering that he has a history of being one of the worst defensemen in the league, I’ll set his ceiling as him being a defenseman that is actually useful. Don’t hold your breath though.
Why didn’t we let him walk again?
Floor: Maybe he becomes so bad he’s unplayable. Can that please happen?
Last season, the Oil Kings got some great performances from key veterans in their lineup. Trey Fix-Wolansky, Vince Loschiavo, and Quinn Benjafield all had career seasons and were the key drivers of the team’s offence. This season, despite the fact that those major pieces are all gone, there is still a lot of optimism around this team.
For the Oil Kings to repeat the success they had last year, they won’t be banking on a handful of high-scoring veterans, instead, they’ll be looking for some of their young talent to take big steps forward this year and there is no shortage of young talent on this roster.
A large chunk of that talent is in their forward core. While rookies like Dylan Guenther and Jesse Seppala will no doubt play a role, the lion’s share of the offence will have to be carried by their returning forwards.
JAKE NEIGHBOURS: He posted 24 points in his 47 games in his rookie season. That’s solid for a 16-year-old rookie but his play in the regular season isn’t what had fans and the organization buzzing, it was his the way he elevated his play during the teams’ playoff run.
He scored 12 points in 16 playoff games and quite frankly changed the course of their postseason run during a game against the Calgary Hitmen when he scored with ten seconds left to tie the game and then ended the game in overtime as well. He flashed an ability to dominate games and step up in big moments. That’s why I have high hopes for Neighbours as he enters his draft year. I think we’ll see him easily cap the point per game mark in 2019/20.
VLAD ALISTROV: In his first season in North America, he produced 38 points in 65 games. That’s a very strong rookie season for an import player and I have no doubt that he’ll build on that in the upcoming season. He should get more opportunities as well. He saw lots of time on the teams’ top powerplay unit, but there is room for him to slide into the top six this season and that will allow him to produce more offence, which is exactly what the Oil Kings need from him. Being more comfortable off the ice will also benefit him. His English last year wasn’t great and that can have a big effect on a player. An offseason of training for life in the WHL both on and off the ice along with the comfort of returning to a familiar setting are big reasons why I’m expecting a big jump from the Belarusian product.
CARTER SOUCH: He finished fifth on the team in scoring last season but still, I view last season as an up and down ride for Souch. At times, he looked like a player with the potential to take over games. At other times, including stretches in the playoffs, he was buried on the fourth line or was healthy scratched altogether. When you look at players who have the potential to be point-per-game producers, Souch should be high on that list, he just needs to find some consistency.
DAVID KOPE: I had him pegged as a potential breakout candidate last season, but that didn’t happen. He only produced three more points than he did in his rookie season (28). He’s listed at 6’5 and his size is a big part of the reason why I’m still holding out hope that he’ll be able to morph into a driving force in the Oil Kings top six. If he puts together some other parts of his game, he could be a damn good player for this team next season.
SCOTT ATKINSON: Finding a high-end centreman will be important for this team. Yes, they acquired veteran Riley Sawchuk from Tri-City, but they’ll need someone else to step up. I like Atkinson to be that guy. He can win faceoffs, can be trusted in his own end, and last year he showed potential to be an offensive threat as well, posting 15 goals and 18 assists in his second full season. For Atkinson, the point production will come second to him just being a calming force that can be trusted to all over the ice. If he can do that, you’ll see a ripple effect through the rest of the lineup. One side note: I’d be very interested to see Atkinson and Alistrov get a long look together.
JOSH WILLIAMS: Described as a player with the potential to be an elite goal scorer, Williams will get plenty of opportunities to do that this season. In 40 games with the Oil Kings last season, he only scored seven goals. He’ll need to do more than that this season but hopefully some added minutes on a skill line and some prime powerplay minutes will allow him to do that.
LIAM KEELER: I look at Keeler as a bit of a wildcard for this team. I could see him clicking with someone in the top six and producing 35-45 points, but I could also see him falling into more of a support role in the bottom six. It’ll be up to him to earn a spot higher in the lineup but if he’s forced into a smaller role, I still think he can be a really valuable piece for this team. Depth gets you through a lot, Keeler will be around to provide that depth.
Apart from the forwards, I’ll be looking for Conner McDonald to pick up where he left off last season and someone like Matt Roberton to breakthrough following an injury-filled draft year. I’ll have more on those two in the coming weeks.
It’s a new wave for the Oil Kings and while the rookies will be interesting, some returning players having breakout seasons will be the key to the team building on a successful 2019 playoff run.