Preseason results should not be taken too seriously. Lineups are scattered with a mix of established players, prospects, and career minor-leaguers. Coaches use these games to try forward and defence combinations they wouldn’t consider under normal circumstances. Veterans with guaranteed roster spots use these games more for conditioning and timing purposes. The intensity and coaching tactics are scaled back compared to the regular season. Nonetheless, the “live” reps against someone other than a teammate in practice serve a purpose. The Toronto Maple Leafs preseason began with some large concerns about parts of their roster. However, some key figures made early statements in the preseason doubleheader against the Ottawa Senators.
Goaltending, a draft pick or Marlies prospect emerging, and transitioning new forwards into the lineup are concerning questions for the Leafs as they begin a new season. Ilya Samsonov, Alex Steeves, and Calle Jarnkrok did their best to quelch these worries with their performances on Saturday at Scotiabank Arena.
Toronto Maple Leafs Preseason Begins
Samsonov Sparkles in Preseason Debut
The performance of Samsonov along with Matt Murray will be the biggest factor in determining the Leafs’ success this year. They do not have to steal games, but they must not lose them by letting in a backbreaking goal at an inopportune time. Last year, Samsonov often looked lost and unconfident while tending the net for the Washington Capitals. The opposite was true on Saturday.
It’s good to be back 🔹 pic.twitter.com/nItVVebmUX
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) September 25, 2022
Samsonov looked smooth in his movements, confident and control while corralling pucks around him. He stopped all sixteen shots he faced in two periods of action. Yes, he will face more offensive firepower and pressure during the regular season. But, it already looks like the fresh start in a new uniform in a “bet on yourself” year has energized him.
Steeves Makes Himself Noticed
Alex Steeves went undrafted and signed with the Leafs as a college free agent. Not a lot of attention or thought was given to the signing, but Steeves is quietly getting himself noticed now. He had a brief, three-game introduction to the Leafs last season, but spent most of the year establishing himself on the farm team. He posted very respectable numbers. Twenty-three goals along with forty-six points in fifty-eight games.
A goal against the Senators was an early statement from him. Maybe it won’t be a high draft pick that falls from the developmental tree and grabs hold of a bottom-six role. Steeves will look to continue his ascension up the organizational chain and become a homegrown contributor to the team.
Jarnkrok Demonstrates Versatility
Questions arose when Calle Jarnkrok was signed to a four-year deal by the Leafs. It was a big commitment to a bottom-six player that was on the wrong side of thirty. Career highs of only sixteen goals and thirty-five points also raised eyebrows. Leafs’ management saw something they liked. Saturday provided a glimpse of their thinking.
Jarnkrok played with Auston Matthews and Michael Bunting. He responded with a pair of goals, and narrowly missed a third. He also played on both special teams units. Jarnkrok has scored double-digit goal totals in seven of his NHL seasons. He will ultimately likely settle in on the Leafs’ third line. But, early signs indicate he could temporarily occupy a top-six role among the forwards if necessary. If Jarnkrok can become a slightly lesser version of Alex Kerfoot the Leafs would be thrilled. A fifteen to twenty-goal scorer with forty-plus points is quite possible. When Kerfoot likely leaves the team next offseason as an unrestricted free agent, Jarnkrok could be looked upon to fill his role.
Contributions Must Continue Into Regular Season
There is still a long way to go in the Toronto Maple Leafs preseason. Many other stories will emerge. Other players will either step forward or play themselves out of contention for a spot in the lineup. However, head coach Sheldon Keefe and general manager Kyle Dubas must be encouraged by the early returns.
The regular season begins on October 12th against the Montreal Canadiens. The intensity is sure to pick up. Only then, will the positive vibes count.