New-Look Maple Leafs Earn Mixed Reviews

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This new-look Maple Leafs team shows promise, but earns mixed reviews…

Brooks Laich is gold. The newly-acquired veteran centreman brings a wealth of character and leadership that will resonate with both the coach and the kids. He is already making an impact. Great pickup.

Nikita Soshnikov could become the Darcy Tucker-type-piece Leaf fans have been waiting for since Darcy Tucker. He’s got hands and vision, but he also has smarts that you wouldn’t expect from a kid. Pulling the puck to the outside to force the defender into a screen, then ripping it top-cheese long-side while the goalie leans left to track the puck: that’s a veteran scorer’s move. Like Tucker, Soshnikov has some jam which borders on recklessness, in a very good way. He drives the net, infuriates opponents, and goes after the biggest guys out there without hesitation. Coach Babcock spoke highly of his willingness to use all 180 pounds of himself to make it hell on opponents, and he didn’t mind the penalties he took last night in Washington. He may take more penalties than he draws, but he’s going to be fun to watch.

Zach Hyman is a guy the Leafs need to be prepared to lock up long-term. I think he’s the quite possibly player the organization hoped Matt Frattin would become. One of the most responsible, driven wingers I have seen play in a Leafs uni in ages. He literally races to get back into support positions in order to pressure attacking wingers on the rush, and he forechecks like a freight train. Leaf fans are going to love this young man. PS; he’s 24. Can’t call him kid.

While there’s no denying the skill, I will repeat my concerns regarding William Nylander’s compete away from the puck. I just don’t see the intensity I am seeing from Kasperi Kapanen, Soshnikov, Hyman and Connor Carrick. I get that he has an excellent skating stride, but the legs still need to pump to get from A to B, especially when you don’t have the puck on your stick. Coach Babcock had a post-game message for the young guys not willing to commit to the kind of intensity needed to sustain an NHL career. Whether or not he was lumping Kapanen in with his critique, my guess is that he was certainly talking about Nylander. His hesitancy to jump in on board-play during critical times last night versus Washington Capitals didn’t go unnoticed. It wasn’t all negative for Nylander last night, however. He made some slick passes in the O-zone to fool defenders, and he got a quality couple shots off, which isn’t as easy as it sounds versus the league’s top team. He’s getting his chances and also his minutes, but the youngster needs to bear down and drive himself a little harder if he’s going to make a difference out there. The will needs to match the skill, lest Leaf fans dub him “Phil Kessel 2.0”.

Morgan Rielly is starting to show signs of fatigue. Not sure if mental or physical or both, but since being promoted to the powerplay, he’s showing some cracks in the armour. Whenever a new assignment is handed out, an adjustment period should naturally be expected, and this is the perfect time for Rielly to work out the kinks for next season, when he’ll likely see an increase in responsibilities. Fret not, Leaf fans, he’ll be fine.

The Leafs will face off against the Minnesota Wild tonight, and while these one-goal losses may be the very best of a bad situation, a couple points now and again would do wonders in keeping the mood positive going forward. For some, this may be a critical outing as the coaching staff contemplate who gets to stick and stay and who needs to go back to the Marlies and earn another look down the road.

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