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5 Questions: Toronto Maple Leafs

Auston Matthews' poise, Frederik Andersen's goaltending in spotlight

by David Alter / NHL.com Correspondent

An NHL season is filled with twists and turns for each of the League's 30 teams. Here are five of the major questions that could define the 2016-17 season for the Toronto Maple Leafs:

 

Can Frederik Andersen become the starting goaltender the Maple Leafs have been looking for?

Andersen, acquired in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks on June 20, is Toronto's big bet for addressing its goaltending issues. Jonathan Bernier, now with the Ducks, and James Reimer, now with the Florida Panthers, had split the starting job for the past few seasons. The Maple Leafs signed Andersen to a five-year deal reportedly worth $25 million. It represented the biggest commitment general manager Lou Lamoriello has made to a new acquisition since coming to the Maple Leafs on July 23, 2015. Though Toronto's track record with goaltending has been bumpy during the past decade, Lamoriello's track record with goalies is stellar; as general manager of the New Jersey Devils, he selected Martin Brodeur, the winningest goaltender in NHL history, in the 1990 NHL Draft. He also traded for Brodeur's successor, Cory Schneider, in 2013.

 

Will Auston Matthews live up to the hype?

Matthews, 19, was the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft and enters the pressure cooker that is the Toronto hockey market. Matthews played for Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 and had a point in each of the three games; all were played at his new hom, Air Canada Centre. Will he contend for the Calder Trophy? Or will the pressure be too much? Photos of Matthews shattering the glass with a shot during his first practice with the Maple Leafs was front page news fodder for the local newspapers. His poise could be the difference-maker.

Video: Auston Matthews shatters glass in 1st day of practice

 
Who will step up in a leadership role?

When training camp opened, Lamoriello said there wasn't any time frame or thought about when, or if, the Maple Leafs would name a new captain. Dion Phaneuf was the captain until he was sent to the Ottawa Senators as part of a nine-player trade on Feb. 9, and Toronto has not filled the vacancy. There are veterans who could step up and fill a leadership role, including forward Brooks Laich, who has played 764 games in the NHL. But a new captain is likely to be a younger player, such as defenseman Morgan Rielly who could grow into the post.

 

Can Nikita Zaitsev make the transition to the NHL?

Zaitsev, 24, signed a one-year contract with the Maple Leafs after spending the past seven seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League. Zaitsev also played for Russia at the World Cup, finishing with two assists and a plus-3 rating in four games. He showed he can keep up with some of the best talent in the NHL, but can he do it over the course of an 82-game season? Zaitsev's career-high in games in a KHL season is 57, and he'll have to adjust to the grind, the skill level and the smaller NHL ice surface.

 

Will the organization continue to move forward?

Before the 2015-16 season, the Maple Leafs hired Lamoriello and coach Mike Babcock in an effort to change the culture. Though the Maple Leafs finished last in the League last season, the fan base has embraced the rebuild. But with the addition of players like Matthews and Andersen to a young nucleus, expectations are that results will improve this season.

Video: CBJ@TOR: Rielly opens scoring with top-shelf SHG

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