Predicting the Leafs' 2017-18 Opening Night Lineup

(Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

As the Toronto Maple Leafs march through the dog days of the NHL offseason, one thing they don’t have to worry too much about is their roster. A majority of their key players remain under contract for the upcoming season, the young guns appear ready to take the next step in their development, and the team is eager to build on the success of last season.

While the players who will don the Blue and White has been determined, figuring out where each of them will play come opening night is not fully set in stone. The new additions and the key young stars will all play a factor in what the line combinations will eventually look like.

Here's my best guess as to what the Leafs lineup will look like when they open their season against the Winnipeg Jets.

Forwards

Marleau-Matthews-Nylander
JVR-Bozak-Marner
Komarov-Kadri-Brown*
Hyman/Martin-Moore-Kapanen
* = Assuming Connor Brown re-signs in time for opening night (he's currently an RFA)


The forward lineup sees very few changes from when the Leafs were in the playoffs this past spring. One obvious difference will likely be Zach Hyman replaced by Patrick Marleau on the top line, as it seems that Mike Babcock will pair this summer’s big free agent signing with Auston Matthews and William Nylander.

James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, and Mitch Marner should remain together because of their strong offensive chemistry from the previous season. Though the line did have some issues from a defensive stand point, it would be ill-advised to separate them.

The same reasoning applies to the third line of Leo Komarov, Nazem Kadri, and Connor Brown, which was an effective shutdown group that annoyed opposing teams. Though Brown is currently without a new deal, it will likely be done during training camp once the LTIR contracts kick in and he would remain on the roster.

Meanwhile, the fourth line sees the most pronounced change from the 2016-17 version. While Matt Martin does appear to have a position locked down, he will have to fight against Hyman for ice-time. Dominic Moore and Kasperi Kapanen will take the other spots for obvious reasons.

Defense
Rielly-Zaitsev
Gardiner-Hainsey
Marincin-Carrick

Unlike the forwards, the defensive pairings will see a change in terms of the full-time players. Morgan Rielly and Nikita Zaitsev, despite their defensive shortcomings, will likely return as the Leafs’ top pairing due to their offensive chemistry. With a whole season together under their belt, that could help give the two confidence to become a more effective top pair.

Jake Gardiner now pairs up with Ron Hainsey, another big free-agent signing this summer. Despite being listed as a left-handed shot, Hainsey can slot into the right side as he did with the Pittsburgh Penguins en route to their second straight Cup. The second pair should provide a balance of sturdy defense and high-speed offensewhich Babcock will likely use to his advantage.

For the third pairing, Martin Marincin gets paired with Connor Carrick. The two did not get a consistent amount of ice time due to constant shuffling of lines and injuries to Marincin. With Matt Hunwick and Roman Polak now gone, both Marincin and Carrick have a great opportunity to lock down a permanent spot on the roster. If one or both of them can't take it, then players like Alexy Marchenko, Travis Dermont, or Rinat Valiev could replace them.

Goalies
Andersen
McElhinney

The goalie lineup is the exact same as it was this past season. Unless Curtis McElhinney is traded, suffers an injury or regresses, this goalie tandem will likely remain unchanged during the year.

If there is a change in the backup goalie position for whatevereason, one of Garret Sparks or Kasimir Kaskisuo will likely fill in the void as both appear ready to get an extended look in the NHL in the near future. 

Frederick Andersen played a high volume of games this past year and that is not expected to change for 2017-18.

Conclusion

The Leafs lineup, as a whole, remains more or less identical to the one that played during Game 6 against the Washington Capitals. The additions and subtractions do alter the makeup of the roster in a noticeable way, but overall shouldn’t affect the team’s chemistry in any significant way.

Barring any trades or call-ups, this is my take on what the starting lineup will likely be when the Leafs take on the Jets in October.

You can follow Michael Mazzei on Twitter @MichaelMazzei3. 


Comments

  1. I think there is better than Marincin in the organization and he will be more of the 7/8 d-man. He is not consistent enough to be there every night

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