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.
Hockey is officially back, as the World Cup is underway. However, so far, the tournament has not really excited me.
Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed watching some of the games, but it just has not had the wow factor I was expecting. For one thing, the tournament seems a bit campy to me.
For those who are unaware, the tournament involves eight teams, including Team Canada, USA, Sweden, Russia, Czech Republic, Finland, North America and Europe.
Team North America is a collection of players, 23 years of age and under, from both Canada and the United States. This team was mainly created because the depth of talent in both countries was not being represented on the international stage. Team Europe is a collection of players from other European countries not represented by their own teams in the tournament.
With this format, this tournament sort of reminds me of the EA sports games. Like many EA fans, I was one of those people that created multiple teams and had them face off. After a while though, I would abandon those teams because the interest was just not there anymore. This World Cup is like taking those teams and putting them in simulation mode, watching who will win. It is kind of fun, but there is not enough excitement to sustain the interest.
The lack of excitement could also be due to the amount of players that have dropped out because of injury. Hockey players sometimes jump through hoops in order to represent their country, so the fact that this tournament has lost so much talent is very telling. The extensive list includes David Krejci, Sean Monahan, new Leafs goaltender Frederik Anderson, Henrik Zetterberg, Duncan Keith and Jamie Benn.
I admit, the main reason I watched the first game was to get my first real glimpse at the Leafs new star Auston Matthews competing against NHL ready talent. That first North America versus Europe game was up-tempo and quick, but I haven’t yet felt the amount of patriotism or excitement the Olympics and even the World Junior Hockey Championship provides.
Now, my blasé feeling towards this tournament might also be the fact we are still in the exhibition portion of it, but I’m not really sure I will ever get excited about any of these teams.
I guess the best way to sum up my thoughts is through the words of former Leafs coach Randy Carlyle. It has been “Okay. Just okay.”
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