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Season Preview

Maple Leafs season preview: Marner, Matthews production critical

Each forward is entering first season of new contract; Nylander hoping for resurgence

by Dave McCarthy / NHL.com independent correspondent

The 2019-20 NHL season begins Oct. 2. With training camps open, NHL.com is taking a look at the five keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for each of the 31 teams. Today, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Coach: Mike Babcock (fifth season)

Last season: 46-28-8; third place Atlantic Division, lost to Boston Bruins in Eastern Conference First Round

 

5 KEYS

 

1. Matthews and Marner production

The Toronto Maple Leafs are counting on forwards Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner to continue to produce as each enters his first season with a new contract.

Matthews, who signed a five-year contract Feb. 5, has 205 points (111 goals, 94 assists) in 212 NHL games, including an NHL career-high 73 points (37 goals, 36 assists) in 68 games last season. Although the 22-year-old forward has missed 34 games because of injuries in the past two seasons, if he can stay healthy, it's possible he could score at least 50 goals and 100 points.

Marner, who led the Maple Leafs in scoring each of the past two seasons, including an NHL career-high 94 points (26 goals, 68 assists) in 82 games last season, signed a six-year contract Sept. 13.

Video: Matthews, Marner, Tavares claim spots on Top 50 list

 

2. Nylander's resurgence

William Nylander had 27 points (seven goals, 20 assists) in 54 games after the forward missed the first two months of the season as a restricted free agent before signing a six-year contract. With a full training camp this season, Toronto is hoping Nylander can return to the form that got him 61 points in each of the previous two seasons.

 

3. Andersen's workload

Goalie Frederik Andersen, who will turn 30 on Oct. 2, has said he is willing to embrace a lighter workload to prioritize his health for later in the season after he played through a groin issue down the stretch last season. Andersen led the NHL with 192 starts during the past three seasons.

Babcock pushed back against guaranteeing a scaling back of Andersen's games at the start of training camp, saying he is most concerned about making the Stanley Cup Playoffs. If Andersen is going to play less, Michael Hutchinson, who appears to have earned the backup job, will have to gain the coach's trust.

Video: OTT@TOR: Andersen stretches out pad to deny Duclair

 

4. New defensemen

The Maple Leafs will have four new defensemen in the lineup when they begin the regular season against the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 2, with only Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin returning. Tyson Barrie (Colorado Avalanche) and Cody Ceci (Ottawa Senators) were each acquired in a trade this offseason, and rookie Rasmus Sandin seems likely to earn a spot on the third pair.

Toronto scored the fourth-most goals in the NHL last season (286) and allowed 249 (12th). How fast its defensemen develop chemistry could determine how successful the Maple Leafs will be.

 

5. Improvement on penalty kill

The Maple Leafs tied for 16th in the NHL on the penalty kill last season at 79.9 percent. In the playoffs, Toronto was second-worst (56.3 percent), allowing seven goals on 16 opportunities.

The penalty kill will look different because three of the four players who led Toronto in shorthanded ice time per game -- defensemen Nikita Zaitsev, Ron Hainsey and forward Connor Brown -- are no longer on the roster. Forward Zach Hyman, who was third in shorthanded ice time per game last season, is expected to miss the first month of the season while recovering from ACL surgery in April.

 

ROSTER RUNDOWN
 
Making the cut

The top three forward lines appear set, and Frederik Gauthier and Jason Spezza are expected to earn two of the three spots on the fourth line. Rookie Dmytro Timashov is in contention for the open spot at left wing with Nic Petan and Egor Korshkov.

The top four defensemen are set with Rielly, Barrie, Muzzin and Ceci, and Travis Dermott, who will miss 12-14 games while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, will be a regular once he returns. There will be battles for two spots on the third pair with Sandin and Martin Marincin seeming to hold an edge over Justin Holl and Kevin Gravel.

 

Most intriguing addition

Barrie can become an unrestricted free agent July 1; the 28-year-old is one of the NHL's most dynamic offensive defensemen. He set NHL career highs last season with the Avalanche in assists (45) and points (59), and tied his NHL career high in goals (14). Since 2013-14, Barrie has 294 points (73 goals, 221 assists), eighth among NHL defensemen.

Video: Ranking the Maple Leafs' big three

 

Biggest potential surprise

Ilya Mikheyev signed a one-year, entry-level contract with the Maple Leafs on May 6 after playing the past four seasons for Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League. Babcock was influential in the recruitment of Mikheyev, who will turn 25 on Oct. 10. The left wing had 45 points (23 goals, 22 assists) in 62 games last season and projects to play on the third line.

 

Ready to break through

Trevor Moore had eight points (two goals, six assists) in 25 games as a rookie last season while impressing with his speed and forechecking on the fourth line. He earned Babcock's trust and played in each of the Maple Leafs seven Stanley Cup Playoff games, scoring one goal. The 24-year-old undrafted forward is expected to receive an elevated role this season.

 

Fantasy sleeper 

Andreas Johnsson (average draft position: 169.8) will likely keep his line placement next to Matthews and could compete for a top power-play spot after the trade of center Nazem Kadri. -- Rob Reese

 

PROJECTED LINEUP

Kasperi Kapanen -- John Tavares -- Mitchell Marner

Andreas Johnsson -- Auston Matthews -- William Nylander

Ilya Mikheyev -- Alexander Kerfoot -- Trevor Moore

Dmytro Timashov -- Frederik Gauthier -- Jason Spezza

Morgan Rielly -- Cody Ceci

Jake Muzzin -- Tyson Barrie

Rasmus Sandin -- Martin Marincin

Frederik Andersen

Michael Hutchinson

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