The Toronto Maple Leafs are a team that is looking to improve on a surprising season. However, the way fans saw them improving on the day they were eliminated from the playoffs is different than how they see it now. Back then, it was just relying on the Leafs’ young players getting better. Now it’s the additions of Patrick Marleau and others that have put even more hope into Leafs Nation.
The other side of bringing in new players is what it does to prospects that could have had a shot at making the team. There used to be an open spot or two to fight for. Now their isn’t. Here are three that have been affected the most.
This is the big one. Last season, Kapanen came up to the Leafs for eight games and didn’t look out of place. He then was one of the Leafs more reliable in the playoffs, scoring two goals in the series. All this came after being a point-a-game player with the Toronto Marlies. Everything looked great looking into the next season as it looked like a spot was his to lose.
Kasperi Kapanen (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)
Then the Leafs signed Marleau.
Ever since then, cracking the opening night roster hasn’t exactly looked like it will happen for the young Finn. The Leafs roster looks set and the only player that has seemingly played his way onto the roster is Miro Aaltonen. The other problem is that Kapanen doesn’t have to go through waivers to be sent down. That means he’ll be sent down over a player like Josh Leivo.
That being said, Kapanen could see time with the Leafs should their be an injury to one of their wingers. There is no way the Leafs will have the same luck when it comes to injuries they had last season. Kapanen will be the first one called up in that case.
In what is definitely a lower profile case than Kapanen’s, Rychel would have deserved a shot to make the team had the Leafs not signed Marleau. While we were all waiting for the expansion draft, it looked like the Leafs would either lose Rychel or Brendan Leipsic. While Rychel wasn’t as productive as either Kapanen or Leipsic, he was still one of the Marlies’ best players.
Kerby Rychel (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)
He apparently wanted out of Columbus because he wasn’t getting much of a chance with the team. If the Leafs don’t give him that shot soon, the Leafs might find themselves in the same position the Blue Jackets did. The fact that his dad, Warren Rychel, played for the Leafs and coaches in Windsor could help that not happen to them.
This season, the test will be whether or not he can take another offensive step. With the loss of Leipsic, the Marlies could use jump in stats from Rychel. He’ll also be a leader on the team which should have a lot of younger talent coming up.
Going into this preseason, Travis Dermott was looked at as a player that could play his way onto the team. After all, he was the Leafs’ top defensive prospect before Timothy Liljegren was drafted. That could still happen, however it looks like Calle Rosen might have the inside track on the sixth spot on the Leafs’ defense. While Dermott and Andreas Borgman could stick around as potential seventh and eighth defensemen, it doesn’t make sense for the Leafs to do that. It’s better to have them playing more often and actually developing with the Marlies rather than sitting in the press box.
Dermott will get a shot with the Leafs eventually. He looks to be a big part of the Leafs’ future blue line core in the not too distant future. It will be Morgan Rielly, Timothy Liljegren, Nikita Zaitsev and Dermott as the Leafs possible top four. Note that Jake Gardiner is not mentioned there, that’s because he might be the defenseman that has to go as younger guys finish their entry-level deals. That is a story for another day though.