It’s a well-documented fact that the Toronto Maple Leafs have elite talent among their top-six forwards, but strength throughout the offence is key to their success in the play-ins.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have some truly elite talent on offence, most namely Auston Matthews, John Tavares and Mitch Marner, but having strength with all four of their offensive lines will be what helps them progress to the playoffs.
The Leafs take on a strong defensive team in the Columbus Blue Jackets for their Stanley Cup qualifying round and will need their entire offensive unit to be clicking to ensure they do not suffer a disappointing upset in the best-of-five series.
The Leafs’ top six is well-known and established, with the return of Ilya Mikheyev the only significant change to it since the decision to return to play a month ago.
Unsurprisingly, with the exception of Mikheyev who missed the majority of the season; Matthews, Tavares, Marner, William Nylander and Zach Hyman all ranked in the team’s top-five for points registered or goals scored, with Tyson Barrie the only outlier in terms of total points.
With the Blue Jackets being their opponents, getting offensive production from the bottom six forwards becomes even more important for the Leafs, who will undoubtedly find their top forwards coming up against some of the best defencemen in the league, particularly with Seth Jones.
This shouldn’t be a concern for the team, however, as the emergence of a truly impressive third line comprised of Nick Robertson, Alexander Kerfoot and Kasperi Kapanen has truly flourished, contributing to two of the team’s four goals in their warm-up against the Montreal Canadiens.
Along with them, the team also has some offensive potential from their fourth line, thanks largely to Jason Spezza and, when given the opportunity, Pierre Engvall.
Overall, this gives the team something they haven’t truly had for a while – four lines that can truly contribute offensively.
For some years, the Leafs’ fourth line relied primarily on grit, physically and a stronger defensive sense, but now Sheldon Keefe has four lines that he can put in situations that lend themselves to scoring opportunities.
The Leafs rely heavily on their strong offence, scoring the third-most goals in the league and having the joint fifth-best power-play, so it should come as no surprise that having all four lines rolling should be the best way for the team to progress beyond the play-in round.
This will allow for contingencies in the event that the top line, whichever the Leafs decide to use, struggles to get going. Having this much depth on offence means the Blue Jackets will need to be on alert at all times.
It also means the Blue Jackets’ defensive corps, all the way down to the third pairing, will be facing players that can be a legitimate threat in front of goal.
Everything will become clear when the two teams take to the ice on Sunday, and it should be a close-fought battle between two fairly evenly matched teams.