When the Toronto Maple Leafs begin their Centennial season in Ottawa on Wednesday night, it will be with one of the youngest squads in recent years.
Over Thanksgiving weekend, the Leafs trimmed their training camp pool to 25 players. By Tuesday evening, the 23-man roster for the opening night of the 2016-17 season was finalized. The average age of the 13 forwards, eight defencemen and two goaltenders is 25 years old. While Babcock says he has never coached such a young group, it is a perfect fit for a head coach who demands tenacity and intensity from his charges.
No one from the Leafs is getting ahead of themselves, but Babcock believes they have struck a healthy balance.
"We have enough veterans to help them along the way and we have enough good kids with energy that are going to get better fast," he said after overseeing his team close out their exhibition schedule in Detroit on Saturday night, edged out in a tight 4-3 game.
During preseason, the young Buds have had a strong taste of playing from behind, a habit they'll be keen to scratch. Toronto gave up the first goal in six of its warmup games, including the last five straight. When the real stuff starts on Wednesday, the Leafs must be quicker out of the gate.
Leading the fight for the 2016-17 season are a pair of lines that could prove explosive. James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak will be joined by rookie forward Mitch Marner, who has turned heads in preseason with his speed and creativity. William Nylander, who played 22 NHL games last year, will partner with Auston Matthews and Zach Hyman.
Dane Frederik Andersen is likely to start between the pipes but NHL veteran Jhonas Enroth, also new to Toronto, has seen enough game-time during the exhibition schedule to know he's a reliable backup. However, both will require some further acclimatization, playing behind so many new teammates. One of them is blueliner Morgan Rielly, who impressed for North America at the World Cup and will act as one of four alternate captains in the blue and white. The 22-year-old is entering his fourth NHL season and has shown signs that his offensive contribution will increase this term.
The Maple Leafs opens the regular season on Wednesday, October 12 when they visit the Ottawa Senators at 7 p.m before facing the Boston Bruins at Saturday's home opener.
Right now, they're focusing on getting better every day.
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