Toronto Maple Leafs: A Blessing in Disguise

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 08: William Nylander
TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 08: William Nylander /

If the playoffs were to start today, the Toronto Maple Leafs would play the Boston Bruins in the first round. With every passing day, this becomes more of a reality. Is this certainty a blessing in disguise?

Three weeks ago, there was talk that the Toronto Maple Leafs could make a run for first place in the Atlantic. After the loss of Auston Matthews and a four-game losing streak, those hopes are all but kaput as both the Bruins and Lightning continue their dominant play. (Bruins are 7-3-0 in their last 10 and the Lightning are 9-0-1)

With the Maple Leafs sitting comfortably in third place in the Atlantic, the Leafs-Bruins first-round matchup is all but set. With the numerous injuries and sicknesses that have recently plagued the Leafs, this is the perfect opportunity for Babcock’s group to experiment with the lines and pairings.

On Wednesday night, Andreas Johnsson is expected to make his NHL debut on the fourth line, with Tomas Plekanec and Kasperi Kapanen. Calle Rosen was called up as well and in practice, he was seen on a pairing with Connor Carrick.

Johnsson is the points leader for the Marlies, with 26 goals and 28 assists (54 points) in 54 games played. He’s 23 years old and will definitely get more NHL ice time next season. With the physicality of the NHL playoffs and the uncertainty with Matthews’ injury, it is nice to have a player like him in Babcock’s back pocket.

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It’s also interesting to see William Nylander at centre and Dominic Moore sitting out. Nylander’s play at centre has been improving every game and he has great chemistry with Mitch Marner.

Nylander’s faceoffs have improved and against the Penguins, a team known for their incredible centre depth, his faceoff percentage was 64.3 percent. When Tyler Bozak and Plekanec are gone at the end of the season, Babcock will need players to step up to fill the void and Nylander seems to be a front-runner.

These injuries are unfortunate, but it gives the Leafs the opportunity to evaluate other players who wouldn’t normally get a chance to play if their roster was fully healthy. It also gives Babcock a chance to juggle the lines and see what other combinations can be useful in the playoffs.

Next: When will Auston Matthews actually return?

Do you believe it’s a blessing in disguise the Leafs already essentially know their first round opponent in the playoffs? Regardless, what is your prediction for the outcome in the series? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.