The Leafs wrapped up what was a pretty good weekend by imploding in the third period and losing handily, but that doesn’t take away from some of the positives that were shown overall.
There were some youngsters who had good weekends, others who had very good weekends, and a few who struggled. In other news, the Leafs also have a new player coming to training camp in Mason Raymond.
You know hockey is back when there are actual relevant games and players to talk about all of a sudden. Here are some scattered thoughts on the weekend that was:
– It was a shame that Matt Finn got hurt and only played a little over a game. He was effective at moving the puck and found his groove during the first game. His injury probably wasn’t a big deal, and I’m guessing they sat him as a precaution, but hopefully he’s able to stay healthy this year. You don’t want to see kids ever struggling with injuries, let alone in their big development years (he missed a lot of hockey last season).
– In the first game of the tournament, I felt the Leafs kind of buried McKegg by playing him with Brown and Broll (he was trying to give-and-go but wasn’t getting the puck back). In his second game – the final game of the tournament — he wasn’t a standout either, this time playing alongside Leivo and Ross. McKegg is on the older side of players participating in that tournament – being 21 – and he’s had a full season in the AHL. He should have been dangerous consistently and stood out; he didn’t, which is a bit concerning. I still think he’s primed to have a good year for the Marlies on account of the likelihood that he’s going to get an opportunity to play in a scoring role consistently. But this wasn’t a great weekend for McKegg and if he doesn’t have a strong year this will be the first thing I’ll point to.
– Similarly, Granberg wasn’t very impressive, either. Billed as a big shutdown type of defenseman, he wasn’t overly physical and his foot speed was lacking. In game 2 particularly, I noted a few times where players dumped the puck into his corner and beat him to it handily. Perhaps he wasn’t used to the ice and took the chance to play against lesser competition a little too easy, perhaps focusing on making adjustments to his game to better help him adapt for pro camp, but he wasn’t sharp this weekend. Percy carried him in game 2. It wasn’t exactly the three games you would expect from a guy who is supposed to push for an NHL roster spot on a crowded defense. In fairness to him, it’s tough for a defensive type of defenseman to standout in that kind of tournament.
– Granberg is a year younger than Blacker, but I’m betting if Blacker was in this tournament he would have dominated it. We’ll see what Granberg does in camp, but right now I’d put Blacker ahead of him.
– Interestingly enough, I thought this would be a bad tournament for Stuart Percy because this hockey is pretty unorganized and he plays a very structured and positional game. In game 1 he struggled and was actually at fault on one of the goals; Granberg went for the reverse and Percy was standing in front of the net. As Granberg’s partner, Percy has to give him an outlet for either the D-to-D pass, or the reverse; not being an option whatsoever cannot happen. To Percy’s credit, he was great after that for the rest of the tournament.
– When it comes to Percy, I always personally revert back to watching him live in the Marlies Calder run to the finals, when he played in the first round and was exceptional at moving the puck up ice. He isn’t a guy who you will know is ready to move up to the next level on account of him dominating, but I bet if you throw him in the fire he figures out how to adjust and be successful. He’s just so smart out there.
– The next best performer was easily Brad Ross, who was all over the ice. His first period in game 2 was the single best period any Leaf had this weekend as he was a missile and hit anything and everything in sight on every single shift. He really needed to have a good tournament given D’Amigo and Ashton are probably ahead of him on the depth chart and Tyler Biggs isn’t far behind. If Ross has a good NHL camp now, and then starts strong in the AHL, he’s going to be hard to keep down for long.
– Ross’ skating also looked unbelievable this weekend. It’s tough to tell if that’s because he was on the ice against weaker/younger players, but it just appeared like anytime he wanted to turn it on he could separate from his opponents.
– Josh Leivo was another guy who had a strong tournament. He was one of the only Leaf forwards who was regularly dangerous with the puck. When he missed the third period in game 1 it really changed the complexion of the game. He was the best player on the ice until then, and once he was out it really swung momentum. He should carry this tournament into NHL camp and then onto the AHL; I think everyone is expecting big things from Leivo and for good reason.
– Rielly got beat on the outside again in game 1 by Phillip Danault, but otherwise he was fantastic with the puck. In the world juniors, AHL, and now this camp, I’ve seen Rielly get consistently beat wide on one-on-ones and it’s concerning and confusing considering he’s so fast. In the WHL, it obviously doesn’t happen because he dominates and is faster than pretty well everyone, which makes up for many problems. At the higher levels he’s getting beat. His vision and ability to hit teammates in stride is unbelievable, though. Rielly also puts a ton of pucks on net and creates offense as good as any player in the game, be it a defenseman or forward.
– MacWilliam had a solid second game and was really physical after having a pretty average first game. I think he will be better in the preseason because it’s more suited to his game and he’s going to be a horse against men. It was also nice to see him go after Robinson (Ottawa player) for tripping the Leafs’ goalie. MacWilliam is limited as an overall player because he doesn’t have offensive upside, but he’s a strong, physical player who could probably model his game after Mark Fraser.
– Gauthier showed flashes and more or less looked like a guy who had just been drafted. On the Percy goal in the final game, he gained the zone with the puck and controlled it by himself while no other Leaf was in the zone and managed to maintain it and make a smart play. On another play in game 2, he took a feed from Connor Brown in the slot, pulled the puck back with his reach, and dished it across to Dave Broll on a nifty setup. In other words, he showed little flashes of being able to hold onto the puck and make great plays, he just needs to learn how to create offense on his own and be dangerous offensively. During the weekend he said he wasn’t the skilled player growing up so he worked hard on his defensive game; now, it’s time to work on the offensive side of things.
– A lot of people were excited for Connor Brown as he lit it up with Erie, but this weekend kind of highlighted my concerns with him. He isn’t elite at anything and when you don’t have a dominant trait it’s very hard to be productive in the NHL. It was difficult for him to get the puck in open space or make an impact, but to his credit he was crafty when the puck did get to his stick (setup the Percy goal, for example).
– Fabrice Herzog reminded me of Sondre Olden from a few years ago: big, very skinny, and has some skill. I’ll be interested to see how he develops this year, but if he too doesn’t pan out are the Leafs going to stop drafting these types of project players from Europe?
– Tyler Biggs had a solid weekend and played his type of hockey. He got into a fight, was physical on the forecheck, was a net presence on the power play which led to a goal, and made a good outlet pass off the breakout leading to another goal, to name a few things. He doesn’t play flashy hockey but he’s good in a defensive role and he’s a good skater for a big guy.
– Raymond was a good NHLer until Boychuk broke two vertebrae in his back, something he has even admitted he’ll never be fully the same from. I’m betting he has the “damaged goods” label on him at this point because his age and track record of production should have earned him a contract.
– Perhaps his play will give the Leafs leverage with Kadri, but I really just consider his PTO to be a true tryout to see whether or not he can fit into the line-up and serve a purpose in Toronto. The Leafs don’t have a ton in the way of scoring options who are ready to play in the NHL on their farm team, so if he does pan out he could give them some flexibility and depth. We’ll see how he does in camp before we really get into his game.
– Although different situations, we’ve seen Jason Allison and Steve Thomas tryout for the Leafs and not make it, so let’s not go overboard with speculation on what this means. Like I said, I consider it a “true tryout” at this point.