Toronto Maple Leafs: Projecting the Blue-Line for Opening Night

Timothy Liljegren #37 of the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Timothy Liljegren #37 of the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs will see a revamped blue-line from what they saw last season.

With only one returning defenseman from last years opening night roster, it’s no secret that the Toronto Maple Leafs front office has made the position their key focus heading into this season.

Ron Hainsey and Nikita Zaitsev are now with the Ottawa Senators. Igor Ozhiganov left for the KHL, Jake Gardiner signed with the Carolina Hurricanes and Travis Dermott will be held out of the line-up until November.

This leaves only Morgan Rielly, arguably the leagues best defenseman as the only returning player.

Looking above and seeing all the deductions are probably leaving most fans thinking, “who will play defense then?!”

This is where I come in to help.

Filling in the Open Spots

The first two pairings seem like slam dunks. Cody Ceci on the right side of Morgan Rielly, followed by Jake Muzzin and Tyson Barrie.

This is where things get interesting.

Competing for the final two spots is featured by:

Justin Holl, Martin Marincin, Jordan Schmaltz, Kevin Gravel, Ben Harpur as well as rookies Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren.

I believe it’s finally Timothy Liljegren‘s time to shine.

Considered to be one of the Leafs most entertaining prospects, the 20-year-old defenseman has been evolving into a very stable pro and as Sportsnet’s, Luke Fox explains, Toronto Marlies Head Coach, Sheldon Keefe feels the same way.

"His game broke through in such a way that Keefe has begun using film of Liljegren’s positioning and decision-making as examples for prospects on the right way to play.“Play good defence and then you have space to be creative too” is the main lesson Liljegren has absorbed in North America. “Last year I improved my defensive game a lot, and I think that made me more comfortable on the ice.”"

Entering his third year with the organization, Liljegren has been making tremendous strides throughout his tenure. Viewed as an offensive-defenseman, the 20-year-old would fit in perfectly with this current lineup as he has the ability to drive the play and hold his own on the defensive side, which has improved mightily. It also helps that he is right-handed.

Barring Liljegren having a terrible training camp, I believe he makes the team.

The left side of the third pairing belongs to Ben Harpur. Standing 6 foot 6, weighing 222 lbs, Harpur is the type of player Mike Babcock loves. Big, plays the body, plays an average defensive game with no offensive side.

Harpur will be the perfect line-mate for Liljegren who will need a big body playing alongside him as a protection piece on the defensive side of things.

Projected Opening Night Blue-Line

Rielly – Ceci

Muzzin – Barrie

Harpur – Liljegren

Next. Is Matthews the next captain?. dark

A third pairing of Harpur and Liljegren looks like the best option as we enter training camp as it has the most upside.

Even if it doesn’t work out, the Toronto Maple Leafs have a ton of options.