A new National Hockey League season is set to begin soon, and once again I have decided to make some predictions for the 2016-17 Maple Leafs season.
Yes, I admit, I did not have much success with the bold predictions I made in last year’s column, titled “Leafs breakdown.” However, I can’t help but try again.
Let’s start with the player every Leaf fan has been dying to see suit up, Auston Matthews. I think, despite head coach Mike Babcock’s plan to start Matthews on the third line, we will likely see Matthews anchoring the club’s top line by the midway point of the season.
With his two goal, three point performance at the recent World Cup of Hockey, Matthews has already given fans a glimpse of his potential. Throughout that tournament, he played on a top line with another first overall pick, Connor McDavid, and constantly showed hockey fans the many skills he possesses, including some incredible stick-handling, as well as being strong on the puck.
With that, plus his level of maturity, I don’t think it will be long before he becomes Toronto’s top centre.
Staying on the theme of first round draft picks, I will touch on the fate of Mitch Marner. This season, because of his age, Marner has two options, make the big club, or get sent back to junior. I think Marner will make the team out of training camp.
Last season, with the London Knights, Marner put up some incredible numbers, with 39 goals and 116 points.
The one knock on him has been that he has been too small. This off-season, he was challenged to put on some weight, and reports state he has done just that. He also brings a lot more confidence this time around, having gone through one Leafs' training camp last season.
This kid is a wizard with the puck and, I believe, he is too good to go back to the London Knights again.
Lastly, I must warn fans to be cautiously optimistic this season. The future of the franchise will be a bit clearer with the further infusion of youth, however this rebuild isn’t exactly finished yet.
Standings wise, I don’t think the team will finish in last place again.
However, being a young team, many of the players are still learning how to be successful at the NHL level so the Leafs will likely still need one more season before they can be labelled a potential playoff contender.
Just like last year, feel free to call me on any of these, if they don’t end up coming to pass. However, it’s going to be a fun season.
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Is a reporter for The Standard Newspaper, so if you see him, feel free to say hello. You can follow Dan on Twitter at @dancearnsy