For the diehard supporters of this team, this weekend always represents the earnest beginnings of the new Leaf season — the annual prospects showcase known as the Rookie Tournament.
Maple Leafs 2013 and 2014 first round picks William Nylander and Frederik Gauthier will be skating on the top two lines tonight. According to coach Gord Dineen, this may be Nylander’s only game of the tournament; a little teaser for what’s to come before saving him for the big camp. It’s the first real peak at Nylander in a Leaf jersey in competitive action if we don’t count the intrasquad scrimmaging at the July prospects camp.
Nylander is expected to start on the right wing — before you panic, this doesn’t necessarily mean he’s an etched-in-stone winger for the next 15 years — centered by Niagara IceDogs 2013-14 breakout player Carter Verhaeghe, third rounder in 2013. There will be some muscle on the other wing with David Broll, a Kyle Dubas favorite from his time in the Soo, expected to play on Nylander’s opposite wing.
Freddy Gauthier will center Josh Leivo and new Marlie signing/former Greyhound Patrick Watling.
The Leafs will also be creating a Swede pairing on the backend with the fresh arrivals of Tom Nilsson and Viktor Loov, both late round picks in the 2011 (Nilsson, 4th round) and 2012 (Loov, 7th round) drafts. Loov and Nilsson will join the Toronto Marlies this season, so this will be their first dipping of the toes into North American action before embarking on their first pro camps.
The presumptive primary Marlies starter for this season with Drew MacIntyre now in Carolina, Garret Sparks will get the start in net.
Here’s tonight’s full lineup:
|Rookie Tournament||Game #1 Lineup||Leafs vs. Hawks|
|David Broll||Carter Verhaeghe||William Nylander|
|Patrick Watling||Frederik Gauthier||Josh Leivo|
|Matt Rupert||Ryan Rupert||Tyler Biggs|
|Parker Bowles||Brett Findlay||Luke Philip|
|Viktor Loov||Tom Nilsson|
|Eric Knodel||Cody Donaghey|
|Matt Finn||Jeremie Fraser|
Maple Leafs Hot Stove’s Matt Mistele and Curt Snoddon will be on hand at the Bud Gardens to deliver you the sights and sounds of this weekend’s tournament. Follow them on Twitter and check back for period by period updates along with a post-game recap.
Puck drop is at 7 p.m. EST.
Live Twitter Updates
Real hockey, guys! No more talking about puppet GMs, Clarkson rebounding, or whether or not Nylander makes the team out of camp. OK, nix the last one, we’re still going to talk about that. Lots.
Word dropped earlier this week that Nylander may only play one game and Matt and I (Curt Snoddon, BCP) are lucky enough to be here. Also, Matt showered this year which is a pleasant change. Teravainen looks like he’ll draw in tonight too which will be great. Let’s do it, folks!
First period is in the books and all told, it was pretty entertaining. What stands out to me more than anything is that there are more guys involved that I care about (and it’s making tracking difficult). The recidivists are all here with the exception of Rielly but we’ve also got guys like Nilsson, Loov, and Nylander to keep an eye on.
Hard to miss Nylander so far, especially on offense. Drew a penalty, was sprung on a breakaway that he ultimately mis-handled, made a nice backhanded pass to split the defense as he entered the zone, and was lazy on a backcheck which led to a good chance for the Baby Hawks. All told, it was an impressive debut period for the youngster but let’s not draw any crazy conclusions — he’s only going to be the next Peter Forsberg.
Tyler Biggs has long been anathema to Leafs fans online but truthfully, he had a solid period. He should because he’s 21 but at least he was a net positive rather than the liability he was at times with the Marlies last season.
As far as goals go, the only tally came from the stick of Ryan Rupert, cleaning up some garbage in front of the net off of a soft Eric Knodel shot that was definitely designed for precisely that result. Nothing special but it’s 1-0 Leafs.
That period felt a lot more eventful than the first, though LeafsNation darling, Willy Nylander was a little less involved. Josh Leivo and Carter Verhaeghe were standouts for the Leafs, gaining the zone with ease time after time and always with speed. I’ve always liked him but even still, Leivo looks faster than last year. I wouldn’t be surprised if he made the team out of camp, even despite all the new forward additions and his ability to move between leagues without needing to clear waivers.
Matt Finn scored the Leafs goal on a nice bit of puck control by Brett Findlay. Finn jumped into the hole in the coverage at the right time and didn’t make a mistake with the opportunity Findlay gave him. Defensively, Finn has had his warts tonight though — including on the second Hawks goal. Game sits at 2-2 through 2 periods.
When you’re watching a game like this one, you’re less concerned with the result than with the way players look and the style the team plays. With the front office hires this offseason, I wanted to have a specific look at style and I’ve noticed something: The Leafs are almost *never* dumping the puck in. Admittedly, I can’t watch the game the way I would normally but so far, I’ve registered two dump-ins that were followed by forechecks. This runs in stark contrast with the style the team played in last year’s rookie tourney while Matt and I were here. It was all dump and chase. Those familiar with some of the recent advanced stat work will know that Eric Tulsky had done some great work showing that carries lead to a significant number more shots than dump-ins. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if carrying the puck over blueline was an organizational mandate, at least in these exhibition-type games.
Third period was more of the Josh Leivo show. He was, for my money, the Leafs’ best forward tonight. Not sure if he’ll play tomorrow but I’d like to see him play with Connor Brown a bit — I feel like Brown’s smarts with the puck and Leivo’s powerforward game would suit each other.
As far as goals go, Leivo scored one. It was a backhander scored while cutting across the crease as he picked up yet another rebound. The second Leafs goal of the period and final goal of the game came from David Broll on a hard wrist shot in transition. Nylander got an assist by passing him the puck the width of the ice. I’d like to tell you it was a look-away, through the legs pass but it wasn’t — it was pretty standard stuff.
The resemblance some of the Leafs’ prospects’ games have to players on the NHL club is interesting. Nylander commands the offensive game much the way Phil Kessel does – relying on his speed and skill to create offensive opportunities from nothing. His focus tonight, in particular, was creativity – there won’t be any “underrated playmaker” scouting reports on Nylander the way they follow Kessel around. Billy Ny’s ability to create chances for teammates and feed them passes (sometimes blindly) that generate legitimate scoring chances was – and hopefully will continue to be – on full display.
Similarly, Josh Leivo uses his size and skill to protect the puck much the way Joffrey Lupul does – whether standing still or at full speed on the rush. And Tyler Biggs…well, frankly, Tyler Biggs played tonight the way the Leafs wish and hope David Clarkson can play every night. An energetic, physical presence without being a liability when he has the puck.