If the Toronto Maple Leafs want to find a way to improve their blue line, they are going to need Timothy Liljegren to take a step forward in his development.
There is no denying the Toronto Maple Leafs face a significant challenge to upgrade their defence and it will help if some of the improvements can be made internally.
Seeing Rasmus Sandin takes strides in his development means the Leafs could look to solve their most pressing need on the right side with another prospect in Timothy Liljegren. The soon-to-be 21-year-old made his NHL debut this season and you can say the 11 games should provide him with a sample to follow and learn from.
"“I think it went pretty well. I can be a lot better. I just tried to play an easy game, you know?” Liljegren told TSN’s Mark Masters. “The Leafs were battling in a playoff run, so you don’t want to be the guy to mess that up. I just tried to play my game as best as I could and keep it easy.”"
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The obvious issue with the COVID-19 pandemic is that with no games being played, Liljegren cannot work on his on-ice skills but this should be the time for him to train and get stronger. It was noticeable at times that Liljegren struggled to contain opposing players in tight around the net but adding some muscle and working on it in practice will give him a chance to improve.
With Cody Ceci and Tyson Barrie pending free agents, Toronto will probably be unable to bring both back. In an ideal world, Liljegren would be able to step into Barrie’s role as the offensive option on the right side and be an option on the power play.
Fortunately, the team also has Sandin who has shown great offensive instincts. The obvious issue is that he is a left shot and it wouldn’t be ideal to play him on his opposite side.
Liljegren explained to Masters that his goal is to make the Leafs on a full-time basis next season and that mentality will be crucial. There has been a lot of talk about the team looking to offset some salary by trading some of the surplus they have upfront but getting adequate defenders will be the bigger challenge.
There continues to be the talk about adding Alex Pietrangelo but if the salary cap stays the same, it is hard to see the Leafs having enough room to make that work. Obviously Pietrangelo would be the prototypical defenceman to add but unless there is a way to make the contract work, Toronto will have to look elsewhere for improvements.
This is why they will need their first-round pick from the 2017 NHL Draft to take that step forward that everybody has been waiting for.
What do you think the chances are that Liljegren can made the Leafs on a full-time basis? How can make other improvements to their blue line? Let us know in the comments below.