The Toronto Maple Leafs went 4-0 since my last article as Mitch Marner, John Tavares and Morgan Rielly continue to put on a show every night.

As a result, this looks like a great time to focus on the NHL club, so the Marlies will have to wait a week or two. Today’s article will look at Toronto’s impressive forward depth, ways to shift the defence pairings, as well as a few notes regarding the team’s prospects.

Toronto’s Impressive Forward Depth

Adding William Nylander to this lineup will make the Leafs a force to be reckoned with. Toronto’s depth up front is simply incredible, and it’s tough to believe just how far they have come since the days of this:

Kasperi Kapanen is in the midst of a breakout season and his emergence provides the team with lethal duos between those who play center and right wing. Auston Matthews and Nylander create one of the NHL’s best lines in terms of expected goals, while John Tavares and Mitch Marner look like they were made for each other. The Kapanen-Kadri duo looks like it belongs on a second line, rather than a third line, and a duo of Par Lindholm and Connor Brown would surely create a solid fourth line pairing. The Leafs are certainly going to be a handful once they get to full strength.

The Leafs are noticeably weaker at left-wing, but Andreas Johnsson is starting to look like his old self, and Zach Hyman’s skillset doesn’t go into slumps. Both Johnsson and Patrick Marleau are talented goal scorers who can make the most of their chances, while Josh Leivo and Tyler Ennis are more than capable of making a positive contribution on a fourth line.

Opposing teams already have a hard time matching up against the Leafs. If they do play Boston again this Spring, the Bruins don’t quite have the same forward depth that they used to. The Leafs are a scary team in terms of the special teams and goaltending matchup, and once this team gets back to full strength, they look bound to be a really scary team in terms of five-on-five play as well.

Shifting the Defense Pairings

Here’s a quick look at how each of Toronto’s defensemen are doing this season at five-on-five:

PlayerRel xGF%Rel CF%TOI% QoCTOI/GP
Travis Dermott7.419.9328.0815.03
Igor Ozhiganov2.576.3327.9213.68
Morgan Rielly0.04-1.7529.8817.14
Ron Hainsey-2.91-2.9929.9716.07
Jake Gardiner-2.28-3.529.418.23
Nikita Zaitsev-5.59-4.8629.4416.91

Travis Dermott is clearly Toronto’s best defenseman in terms of expected goal differential and shot attempt differential. While we need to take these numbers with a grain of salt given his usage, it certainly looks like he’s ready to take on a bigger role. When you have a player who is that good at tilting your ice in your favour, you would rather see John Tavares or Auston Matthews benefitting from those extra opportunities rather than Frederik Gauthier or Par Lindholm. Conversely, Dermott would be more valuable if he was keeping Nikita Kucherov or David Pastrnak from scoring by making them play with the puck less rather than an opposing team’s fourth line.

Andreas Borgman posted strong results in a sheltered role last season, and while he’s not off to a great start with the Marlies, Calle Rosen looks more than capable of taking on a role at the NHL level. Meanwhile, the duo of Gardiner and Zaitsev just doesn’t seem to work together, and I would look to switch things up in a hurry.

Here’s how I would set-up:

Travis DermottMorgan Rielly
Jake GardinerRon Hainsey
Calle Rosen/Martin MarincinNikita Zaitsev

Making Igor Ozhiganov a healthy scratch would be a tough decision, and while I have liked his game thus far, I don’t envision Mike Babcock scratching Hainsey or Zaitsev. He looks like this year’s version of Connor Carrick, as he barely plays on the penalty kill, receives soft usage with a high-end partner at five-on-five, doesn’t score whatsoever, and takes quite a few penalties.

Shifting Rielly to the right-side allows Dermott to stay on the left, and ideally, I would like to keep the younger player in a position to succeed. Rielly has played on the right-side before, and contrary to popular belief, Dermott did not spend a ton of time on the right side with the Marlies. Regardless of which one plays the right side, I think Rielly and Dermott could form an outstanding pairing for the Leafs.

I would be trying to unload Zaitsev’s contract this offseason, so scratching him probably isn’t the best option, plus he can probably do just fine in a third-pairing role. Meanwhile, Rosen looks too good for the AHL most nights, and a Marincin-Zaitsev pairing could eat up a lot of defensive zone starts. Scratching Ozhiganov probably isn’t a popular opinion — and I like his game — but he would simply lose out due to handedness in this scenario. It may not be fair, but I give Dermott the majority of the credit for his pairing’s success rather than Ozhiganov.

The other option that would help keep Ozhiganov in the lineup is this:

Jake GardinerMorgan Rielly
Travis DermottNikita Zaitsev
Ron HainseyIgor Ozhiganov

Prospect Notes

– Toronto’s 2018 fourth-round pick Mac Hollowell is off to a great start. He’s a 5’10” right-shooting defenseman who already boasts 23 points in just 19 OHL games, and I have liked what I have seen out of him in terms of both speed and strength. We need to take his numbers with a grain of salt given that he’s a 1998-born player playing against younger competition, but it’s always nice when you see a prospect do this:

Ian Scott scored a goalie goal this week and he’s now 17-1 with a .950 save percentage in the WHL. This hot run is certainly helping him to climb up Toronto’s prospect rankings and it sure would be fun to watch him play for Team Canada at the World Juniors. Pontus Holmberg, who has seven points in 18 SHL games this season, should be at this tournament as well. Toronto is bound to be well-represented.

Rasmus Sandin is starting to get powerplay time with the Marlies, and while this unit went cold this weekend, I loved their puck movement. Jeremy Bracco‘s calling card is his playmaking on the outside of the 1-3-1 powerplay, and Mason Marchment is an impressive net-front guy. Sandin continues to impress and certainly doesn’t look overwhelmed physically:

That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading!