Maple Leafs welcome 9 new players to their opening night roster

Oct 1 2019, 10:48 pm

With the Toronto Maple Leafs heading into the fifth year of head coach Mike Babcock’s tenure, the pressure is on to perform. After a third consecutive first-r0und playoff exit this past spring, tensions are high in Toronto to prove the team can be more than just a good regular season squad.

While last year’s offseason may have brought a bigger name to Toronto in John Tavares, this year’s edition saw a larger roster overhaul, as nearly one-third of the Leafs’ 2019 playoff roster ended up in new destinations.

Future Hall of Famer Patrick Marleau was the first domino to fall, being shipped off (along with a first round draft pick) on day 2 of the NHL Draft to Carolina for his subsequent buyout.

Nazem Kadri was part of a blockbuster trade with Colorado, ending his Toronto tenure on a sour note with a second consecutive playoff suspension. Ron Hainsey, Tyler Ennis, Connor Brown, and Nikita Zaitsev all ended up in Ottawa via free agency or trade.

And lastly,┬áJake Gardiner signed a four-year deal in Carolina, amid some speculation he’d take a pay cut and a short-term deal to stay in Toronto.

On Monday, the Leafs announced what looks like their opening night roster ahead of Wednesday’s season opener against Ottawa. All things considered, nine new faces populate the initial Leafs lineup.

Defencemen

Tyson Barrie

Previous team: Colorado Avalanche

The centrepiece of the Leafs’ biggest trade of the summer, Tyson Barrie joins the team from Colorado as one of the league’s premier offensive defensemen. Coming in off a 59-point season, the right-handed Barrie has skated with both Jake Muzzin and Morgan Rielly this preseason.

Averaging more than 21 minutes a night in his career, Barrie injects new life into the Leafs’ top-four. Taking up just $2.75 million in cap space (as the Avalanche retained half his salary), Barrie’s on an expiring contract, which signifies the Leafs are in the direction to be making an all-in push this coming postseason.

Cody Ceci

Previous team: Ottawa Senators

A former first-round draft pick, Cody Ceci was Ottawa’s #2 defenceman in terms of ice time each of the past three seasons. But even playing alongside partners such as Erik Karlsson and Thomas Chabot, Ceci’s possession numbers haven’t always been pretty: he’s had a 5-on-5 Corsi rate of 45.0% or less each of the last four seasons.

Signed to a one-year deal after being sent to Toronto via a trade to shed Nikita Zaitsev’s contract, it’s unclear whether he fits into the Leafs’ long term plans or is simply a stopgap.

Rasmus Sandin

Previous team: Toronto Marlies (AHL)

The team’s first-round draft pick in 2018, Rasmus Sandin is looking like an early fan favourite through what was an impressive preseason. Playing with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, the 19-year old Swede produced 28 points in 44 regular season games last year, adding 10 in 13 during the postseason.

Whether Sandin sticks around once Travis Dermott returns from injury is unknown, but he’ll at least likely get a taste of NHL action to prove his worth.

Timothy Liljegren

Previous team: Toronto Marlies (AHL)

Initially projected by some to go as high as first or second overall in 2017, Timothy Liljegren fell to the Leafs at 17th after a bout with mononucleosis during his draft year. Though his progress to the NHL hasn’t been as quick as some would like, Liljegren has spent the last two years honing his game on North American ice with the Marlies, including 20 games during the team’s Calder Cup championship in 2018.

Starting the season on the fourth defensive unit, it’s a toss-up whether Liljegren will slot into the lineup or eventually be sent back down to the AHL.

Forwards

Alexander Kerfoot

Previous team: Colorado Avalanche

Acquired in the same trade as Barrie, Alex Kerfoot brings a versatility that can have him play either left wing or centre. Known for his defensive prowess, the Harvard graduate has put up point totals of 42 and 43 in his two-year career.

Re-signed for the next four seasons at $3.5 million per year, Kerfoot will likely replace Kadri as the team’s shutdown centre moving forward.

Jason Spezza

Previous team: Dallas Stars

A name familiar to Leafs fans from his 11 seasons in Ottawa, Jason Spezza signed a one-year deal. Training camp was a bit rocky for Spezza (including a quote from Babcock about Spezza’s desire to stick with the team), but it appears that has blown over as he’s cracked the initial roster.

While Spezza isn’t a perennial point-per-game player like he used to be, his shift into a bottom-six forward has shown his ability to still be effective in the later stages of his career. At a cap hit of just $700k, there isn’t tons of expectation for the veteran.

Dmytro Timashov

Previous team: Toronto Marlies (AHL)

Perhaps the most surprising development on the roster, Dmytro Timashov has been a name that to this point has always seemingly been a few rungs down the prospect ladder.

Putting up 175 points in 123 career QMJHL games, his last three seasons have been spent with the Toronto Marlies. Timashov finished third on the Marlies in scoring last season with 49 points. However, as he’s no longer waiver eligible, Timashov is at risk of being claimed by another club if the Leafs do try to send him back down to the AHL.

Nick Shore

Previous team: Metallurg Magnitogorsk (KHL)

Ending the preseason as the thirteenth forward, Nick Shore is looking to lock down a roster spot after a year spent with Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the KHL. Now on his third Canadian team after short stints in Calgary and Ottawa, Shore could be the odd man out once Zach Hyman returns from a knee injury.

Ilya Mikheyev

Previous team: Omsk Avangard (KHL)

Ilya Mikheyev enters his first NHL season after playing the past four years with Omsk Avangard of the KHL. 2018-19 was his best season yet, putting up 23 goals and 22 assists in 63 games to lead his team in scoring.

The 25-year-old will get a shot on the team’s third line once action starts up. On a one-year deal worth $925,000, Mikheyev’s likely to get every opportunity to prove he belongs in the NHL.