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Liljegren has up-and-down debut for Maple Leafs

Defenseman prospect was minus-4 but showed promise running power play

by Dave McCarthy / NHL.com Correspondent

TORONTO -- As debuts go, Timothy Liljegren admitted his first game for the Toronto Maple Leafs was not his best performance.

Liljegren, a right-handed defenseman who was the No. 17 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, was minus-4 in a 5-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at the 2017 Rookie Tournament at Ricoh Coliseum on Friday, but he showed glimpses of his speed and offensive ability.

 

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"I think for me it was an up-and-down game," Liljegren said at practice Saturday. "I think I had some good shifts, but obviously I did some mistakes as well, so I just have to learn from it and move on."

Sheldon Keefe, who coaches the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League and is coaching at the tournament, said the team's struggles adhering to a defensive structure worked against Liljegren.

"It was a pretty sloppy and unorganized game from us, and that doesn't play into his kind of game," Keefe said. "I think he was probably a little frustrated, but that power play showed some real positive things. I think as the talent gets better and more organized as people settle, I think he'll fit in a little bit more."

Late in the third period, Liljegren had his best moment, quarterbacking a Maple Leafs power play. Though Toronto did not score, Liljegren generated quality scoring chances and looked confident distributing the puck, a primary reason the Maple Leafs drafted him.

"I think power play is one of the strongest things I can do out there, so obviously I feel confident on the power play," Liljegren said. "I was able to get some good passes moving."

The 18-year-old finished with three shots on goal but made errors that led directly to two goals. On Montreal's first goal, at 8:07 of the first period, Thomas Ebbing caught Liljegren reaching for the puck in the slot and stepped around him to put a wrist shot past goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo.

At 9:57 of the third period, Liljegren's pass from behind the net was intercepted by Ebbing, who scored to make it 4-1. Liljegren was visibly frustrated as he went to the bench, but Keefe said the blame should not be his alone.

"That's an easy one for him to be hard on himself, but I watched it again and we had no structure, no support and nobody was in the spots they were supposed to be, and if they were, he'd have more than the one option he was trying to go to, and a guy like him would have found it," Keefe said. "He can't be hard on himself there. When there's more structure in place and people are in the right spots, he's going to find those options."

Early in his development, Liljegren knows mistakes are going to happen and that dwelling on them will not serve him well.

"I've done a lot of those mistakes in the past, so I've been getting pretty good at forgetting about them," Liljegren said. "You just have to forget about it during the game and learn from it afterwards."

Liljegren will attend Maple Leafs training camp, which begins Friday, but it is unclear where he will play this season. He could play in the NHL, the AHL, or return to play in Sweden. 

As a first-round pick, attention will follow Liljegren to Maple Leafs camp.

"I'm just trying not to think about it too much," he said. "I just try to play my game. There will be games where I don't play my best hockey, like [Friday], but I try not to think about me being a first-round pick too much."

Keefe said he feels Liljegren has handled the pressure well and that there is no reason for him spend much energy worrying about his debut.

"I don't see any issues with him trying to do too much," Keefe said. "I'm not going to overthink anything and I wouldn't expect him to."

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