Maple Leafs Roundtable: Marlies, Matthews vs. Laine and More

Oct 20, 2016; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews (34) carries the puck during the third period against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild defeated the Maple Leafs 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 20, 2016; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews (34) carries the puck during the third period against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild defeated the Maple Leafs 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports /

After opening the season with a pair of victories, we discuss the Toronto Marlies, Matthews versus Laine, and more Toronto Maple Leafs related news.

With the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Marlies regular seasons now in full swing, we thought we would take a look at a few questions surrounding the Marlies, Auston Matthews versus Patrik Laine, the Leafs’ power play, and more.

To help answer those questions, we brought in a few of our own writers from Tip of the Tower.

Sitting at the Table:

Chris Okrainetz (@chrisokrainetz)
Chris McKee (@mrmckee)
David Morassutti (@d_morassutti)
Jake Middleton (@jakemiddleton12)
Larry Faulkner
Vinnie Liu (@VinnieTheHawk)

The Toronto Marlies opened their season with a pair of 5-2 victories over the Utica Comets last weekend, what are your expectations for this season?

Larry Faulkner: Despite an encouraging start to the season with two home wins, how good this year’s version of the Marlies will be is difficult to determine.

With so much flux of player personnel at the AHL level, it will take a larger sampling of games to see how the Marlies truly stack up against other teams in the circuit.

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Of the expectations we can reasonably form at this point, I think solid goaltending and team defence will play a much more important role for overall success this season.

While the offensive domination of last year’s squad will not likely re-occur, this tam is not without its goal scoring talent. If Sheldon Keefe can get them all signing from the same song sheet, a decent run into the playoffs should be in the cards.

Chris Okrainetz: I expect the Marlies to be competitive like they were last season and once again be in the mix for a Calder Cup Finals appearance. This team is different than last years, but their blend of speed and skill should be fun to watch as they continue to develop a number of prospects for the Maple Leafs.

I think this Marlies team might take a little while to fully develop, but once they do, watch out. There is more than enough firepower there to keep them in any game, and if the goaltending develops they could be a real threat.

David Morassutti: My expectations for the Marlies are for them to have a similar season as last year. They have the talent and experience to do it, the only question is whether they can replicate what they did last season because that team was very dominant. There is no reason why this team cannot make the playoffs and, if the goaltending can play better, make a trip to the Calder Cup Finals. It will be interesting to see if the offence can hold up and how this team plays without a lead, but from the first two games alone it should be promising.

Which Toronto Marlies player are you most excited to watch this season and why?

David Morassutti: I am interested to see how Andrew Nielsen plays this season because ever since the Leafs drafted him in the third round of the 2015 draft he has made a name for himself as the Leafs’ top defensive prospect.

I am interested to see how he plays against players in the AHL and whether he can continue to contribute offensively. I saw him play at the rookie tournament and was impressed with the way he carried the puck and his skating. He brings a lot of intrigue with as a potential top-four defenceman, especially considering his size (6-foot-3, 215 pounds), and Sheldon Keefe said after the rookie tournament that he likes the tools he brings.

He will get a lot of opportunities to develop his game to the point where he could emerge as the Marlies best defenceman and, depending on what the roster looks like after the trade deadline, a call-up to the Leafs for a brief stint is a possibility, but only if he has a strong season in the AHL.

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  • Larry Faulkner: I’m going to forego the mention of the usual suspects such as Brendan Leipsic, Kasperi Kapanen, Andrew Neilsen and Andreas Johnson among others, to focus on a handful of players further down the depth chart who all could make important career strides and force themselves into these very types of conversations.

    Mason Marchment is one player I find very intriguing and expect him to emerge as a Marlies’ core player by season’s end. I feel the same way about Trevor Moore and Tobias Lindberg, as both players couldm ake solid cases for themselves if given the opportunity.

    Picking dark horses and watching the leapfrog upwards up the depth chart is one of the greatest pleasures of watching AHL hockey.

    Chris McKee: I’m excited to watch the goaltending situation with the Marlies this year. Garrett Sparks and Antoine Bibeau played well with the big club during their 17 game stint considering the team he had in front of them.

    Bibeau had an impressive campaign for the Marlies last year and considering how shaky the Leafs goal keeping has been early on, I have to think one if not both of these guys will get an opportunity with the Leafs as long as they continue their development in the AHL.

    Chris Okrainetz: Aside from the big name players like Andrew Nielsen, Kasperi Kapanen, Brendan Leipsic etc., I’m excited to watch Dmytro Timashov and Tobias Lindberg.

    Timashov is an undersized winger who Leafs fans have raved about and tabbed as a “steal” of the 2015 draft. While his numbers in the QMJHL were great, the AHL is a whole different beast. The 5-foot-10 Swede looks like he has what it takes, but it will be interesting to see how he develops and how his body handles the grind of a full AHL season.

    As for Lindberg, he was the centrepiece of the Dion Phaneuf trade, so Leafs fans are hopeful that he can take another step forward in his development this season. The 21-year-old power forward had a brief stint with the Maple Leafs last season, and a solid year with the Marlies could help him earn a spot on the 2017 Leafs’ roster. Although that’s well down the road, the Leafs need to figure out what they have in players like Timashov and Lindberg.

    Wednesday’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets was a heartbreaking loss and reiterated the fact that this team is still very young. However, the narrative before and after the game was around Matthews vs. Laine. Is this actually a developing rivalry, or just hot air?

    David Morassutti: I was expecting more hype towards the rivalry between Matthews and Laine but it felt more like hot air to me. The only time I got a sense of the rivalry was when the Jets fans chanted “Laine’s better!” and when he scored the hat-trick.

    When I think of rivalries I think of Sidney Crosby vs Alexander Ovechkin, or Tom Brady vs Peyton Manning, those are storied rivalries not because of games that those athletes played against each other in the regular season but in the playoffs. We may never see a rivalry in the NHL like the one Ovechkin and Crosby have, Matthews and Laine do not play in the same conference like Crosby and Ovechkin do. The only time we will see the two go against each other in playoffs would be in the Stanley Cup Finals and if that happened the rivalry would be ignited.

    I can see Jack Eichel being a rival with Matthews considering that Toronto and Buffalo are divisional rivals. Even then, rivalries are not created after one game, it will take time for a potential rival for Matthews to develop. While Laine may not be that rival, I think Eichel can fill that void.

    Vinnie Liu: The Laine and Matthews “rivalry” is only partially real. The media is definitely making it bigger than it really is to them, but there is no doubt that the top two draft picks want to be the best players they can and one measure is to compare with those in your individual draft year.

    In the end, all that matters is if Matthews will help the Leafs win Lord Stanley.

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    Chris McKee: I think its more of a rivalry in Laine’s mind than Matthews. You always want to prove that the other club made a mistake by not picking you, so it’s natural for him to be up for the challenge and have a big game for the Jets against Toronto.

    Chris Okrainetz: I think these two players will naturally be tied together because of their draft year and being the No.1 and 2 overall picks, but outside of that, I don’t think this is a legitimate rivalry.

    The “Laine’s better” chants that rang through the MTS Centre on Wednesday were fun to hear, but I don’t think Matthews and Laine play each other enough for us to consider this a “rivalry.” Instead, fair or not, I think each game they play against each other will be used as “supporting evidence” to appease fan debates about who is the better player as their careers continue to unfold.

    Larry Faulkner: As colour commentator Craig said (speaking from his own experience), first round draft picks as always want to prove themselves against their peers who went higher in the draft.

    In this regard, the rivalry between Matthews and Laine is real thing and will to some extent always remain as such. The problem, however, is that the media was attempting to artificially impose a debate that will inevitably materialize at a later point in their careers. It was nothing more than annoying background noise for most people.

    Larry discussed the Leafs special teams earlier this week, but what are you thoughts on Morgan Rielly being left off the top power play unit?

    Chris McKee: This is a situation where you have to just trust Mike Babcock’s decision. He’s forgotten more hockey than we’ll ever know, so I’m not going to question his tactics when it comes to a 22-year-old defenceman’s ability to perform on his power play. It’s two weeks into the season, Reilly will get his opportunity at some point.

    Vinnie Liu: I don’t mind Rielly being moved off the top power play unit in order to experiment. The season is still young so fiddling around makes sense since the power play hasn’t been great.

    Ultimately though, I can’t imagine him not being on the top unit, they just need to find the right fit to compliment him.

    David Morassutti: I am surprised at that decision because I think Rielly would help the power play in many ways considering how it has struggled out of the gate. He makes smart plays with the puck and is a reliable defensive option as well. Considering how a player like Niklas Lidstrom was a vital component of the Detroit Red Wings power play I think Rielly should have a role on the top power play unit.

    At some point, if the power play continues to struggle there will probably be a change where Rielly is moved there. It is not a major concern at this point because Rielly should be focused on his play at even strength, rather than putting up points on the power play, but considering the offensive talent the Leafs have upfront it would be nice if he got rewarded with a power play role at some point this season.

    Larry Faulkner: Six rookies and a handful of other new faces in the lineup seems to be the reason why Rielly has not seen power play duty so far this season. I’m satisfied that coach Mike Babcock wants to see what he has among these new players will slot Rielly into the first or second power play unit eventually.

    Chris Okrainetz: I’m not concerned about Morgan Rielly or the Maple Leafs’ power play unit. This team is extremely young and I have no problem with Mike Babcock trying out different players in different scenarios. He needs to see what he has so this organization can make a decision on who to keep going forward and how to use them.

    Next: Should we be Concerned About the Maple Leafs' Special Teams?

    Plus, it’s still so early in the season. I’m sure we’ll see Rielly on the man-advantage at some point this year. In the meantime, let’s trust Babcock and his decisions. I doubt we’ll regret it.