Coach Paul Maurice certainly has some serious offensive weapons at his disposal.
Captain Mats Sundin is as consistent a performer as there is in the League. His 76-point output last year marked the 11th straight season that he finished with at least 70 points, although his goal output, 27, was the lowest he has managed in a full season of NHL play. His struggles at the end of the season severely impacted the Maple Leafs’ playoff chances.
Sundin, though, will have an added weapon at his disposal with the addition of Blake, who is one of the elite scorers in the League after posting 40 markers with the Islanders last season. Only seven players scored more even-strength goals than Blake’s 26 last season.
Darcy Tucker remains a viable threat as well, especially on the power play.
Plus, the Leafs have a cadre of younger players who are developing in a favorable manner. Nik Antropov had a career-best 18 goals. Alexei Ponikarovsky has put down back-to-back 20-goal seasons. Alex Steen, Kyle Wellwood, Matt Stajan, John Pohl and Kris Newbury all had positive impacts last season.
Toronto was the League’s most dangerous team with the two-man advantage, banging home 15 goals in those situations. But otherwise, their power-play was very pedestrian, finishing with a 17.7 percent success rate, which was good for 15th in the League.
The addition of Blake should help the power play as he banged home 14 man-advantage situation goals last season. Plus, the Maple Leafs get a lot of production on the power play from their defensemen.
But the Leafs will have to be better in shorthanded situations. They had just three shorthanded goals last season, tied for last in the League. Their kill rate was also near the bottom of the statistical pack. Plus, the club was shorthanded more than 400 times, an unacceptable lack of discipline.
Up and Coming
Jiri Tlusty – There are quite a few rumblings that suggest Tlusty could make the club as a 19-year-old this fall. He had 17 points in just 13 playoff games last year with Sault Ste. Marie of the Ontario Hockey League after putting a season-long ankle injury behind him. Not only was he productive in the OHL, but Tlusty accomplished his success with a physical, North American style that bodes well for the pro game.
Nikolai Kulemin – It is highly unlikely that Kulemin will play in North America this year after signing a new one-year deal with Magnitogorsk Mettalurg back in Russia. But the 20-year old will be the real deal when he arrives in Toronto. He dominated the RSL last year, scoring 27 goals, and has a scary combination of speed and power that is nearly impossible to counter.
Robbie Earl – The 22-year-old left wing will be one of the big guns in the AHL this year as he continues his progression from the college game. Earl had just 30 points last year in 67 games with the Marlies, but showed the ability, in glimpses, to produce at a much higher level. He will be expected to show more consistency this year.
Dale Mitchell – The Leafs’ first pick in June, selected in the third round, is an intriguing mix of power and skills. Playing deep in the shadow of phenom John Tavares in Oshawa of the OHL, Mitchell still managed 43 goals and 80 points in 67 games last season.
Tyler Reugsegger – Returning to the University of Denver this year, this smallish center is quickly climbing up Toronto’s depth chart. He had 34 points in 40 games as a freshman and really opened some people’s eyes. He also had a very strong camp for Team USA at the U-20 evaluation camp in August.
Mark Bell – The Maple Leafs hope that Bell can overcome his off-ice problems – including a 15-game suspension – to become the power forward he was developing into a few years ago. In his final two seasons with Chicago, which ended in 2006, Bell had posted back-to-back 20 goals seasons and back-to-back 100-penalty minute campaigns. The Leafs would certainly welcome that combination of physicality and hands into their lineup.