As the season winds down ever so slowly, it’s time to start looking ahead to next season. Although there are many areas that need to be addressed, and many more areas from which to find solutions, the NCAA free agent pool is today’s topic of discussion.
Brian Burke et al are usually very active when it comes to the college FA scene, as we have seen in years gone by. To refresh your memory, here is a short list of his college free agent work:
- Christian Hanson now plays in the Washington Capitals organization, but Burke pursued him for his combination of size and skill.
- Tyler Bozak was the top free agent of his class, and rightly so. He has become the de facto top line center for the Toronto Maple Leafs, alongisde Phil Kessel.
- Brayden Irwin was a big forward that Burke signed, but hasn’t shown much in his time here. He was re-signed to a minor league contract, and spends his time mainly in Reading, the ECHL affiliate of the Toronto Marlies.
- Ben Scrivens was the top goaltender available, and has become one of the best goaltending prospects in the system. He’s the starter for the Marlies.
- Simon Gysbers is a smart, offensive puck moving defender currently manning the blueline for the Marlies this season.
- Tyler Brenner was last year’s college free agent signing, and has split time evenly between the Marlies and Reading Royals. Hasn’t show much offensively just yet.
As the NCAA itself begins to conclude it’s season, more and more players are becoming available to sign as their respective teams are eliminated. You can bet that Burke will be ready to pounce as soon as these players become available, ready to hand a bag of cash at them.
Just to clarify, the Leafs will be able to sign college free agents this year because they are only at 48 of the 50 allowed contracts. Technically they have 53 contracts, but five of these players (Greg McKegg, Stuart Percy, David Broll, and Andrew Crescenzi) don’t count because they have not played at least 11 NHL games this season (and were returned to their junior teams).
Regardless of the above, since a player doesn’t count against the reserve limit unless they play 11 NHL games, any signed free agent would not count against the reserve limit for this year, but would have a year burned off their contract.
This leaves the Leafs able to pursue any and all free agents they can throw their money at.
So, just who could the Leafs be targeting?
The number one option in my mind would have to be Justin Schultz who is currently property of the Anaheim Ducks. He’s a former teammate of Jake Gardiner‘s, and he had a standout year with the University of Wisconsin Badgers. Schultz scored 44 points this season (16g – 28a) continuing on his 47 points last season (18g – 29a). Speculation holds that Schultz will hold out on the Ducks until July 1st, where he can then field offers from all teams as an unrestricted free agent.
Should the Hobey Baker candidate become a free agent, you can bet your bottom dollar Brian Burke will probably be taking a run at him. He’s about as good as they get coming out of college, and it would give Burke more depth on the blueline from which to make a deal.
Mark Zengerle – Center – Wisconsin
Attended Toronto Maple Leafs prospect camp last summer and the Maple Leafs still have interest in the sophomore forward … Tied for most points among all second-year players in the country … Had second-longest scoring streak in program history at 20 games. – Tim Wharnsby – CBC
Spencer Abbot – Left Wing – Maine
Spencer Abbott leads the nation in both points (56) and assists (37). And not surprisingly, he has become one of the top candidate’s for this year’s Hobey Baker Award as well. In addition to his point production, Abbott’s quickness and game-changing ability are among the assets that have put him squarely on the NHL radar. One team that has reportedly paid close attention to Abbott’s development at Maine this season is the Toronto Maple Leafs. - DJ Powers – Hockey’s Future
Dan DeKeyser – Defense – Western Michigan
With 30 NHL teams pursuing him, Dan DeKeyser has become the hottest commodity on the collegiate free agent market this season. And it’s not hard to see why. Two NHL teams that have shown some of the greatest interest in the Broncos rearguard are the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs. – DJ Powers – Hockey’s Future
These are just a few of the more popular names out there, and the Maple Leafs are probably interested in many others. At this point, we know the flood gates are opening and Brian Burke loves his free wallets.
After an impressive showing against the Senators last night, the Leafs are back in action tonight against the Philadelphia Flyers. The lineups are slightly altered, but presumably the effort and tenacity will still be there as yet another wave of players try and make their mark, and land one of those exclusive NHL roster spots. Lineups, notes and more after the jump.
Last night’s game against the Senators was great to watch, not only because it means hockey is back, but because several things happened that give credence to this season being much better than last.
Here are my notes on last night’s game:
- All players look a few steps faster than last year, including Nikolai Kulemin, Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak who looked really good all night.
- John-Michael Liles will immediately help the Leafs powerplay this year. His PP-QB abilities are better and less predictable than Tomas Kaberle‘s, and he will shoot the puck as well. He made a few nice passes / plays to keep the puck in and moving around. Looks like a solid pickup.
- Keith Aulie made a few great offensive plays which is odd coming from him.
- The penalty kill, which almost everybody noted, is very much different this year. Instead of being passive, it takes a more aggressive approach which seemed to already pay dividends last night.
- How about Kenny Ryan? Speedy, physical and wouldn’t let any Ottawa player have an easy shift. Odds are he doesn’t stick with the big club, but he could challenge for a spot next year. Looks to be Marlies bound. (OHL eligible as overager)
- Jonas Gustavsson looked decent. Seemed to be swimming a bit on a few plays, but he played OK. Scrivens had a great game as well, he’ll assume starter duties with the Marlies this year.
- The Mikhail Grabovski-Kulemin- Clarke MacArthur line didn’t overly impress, but there’s still time for them to regain form.
- Joe Colborne and Matt Frattin had decent games as well. Although neither did anything too impressive, they both did most of the little things right. Frattin gave the puck up which eventually led to a goal, but he also made a few offensive chances. Colborne’s stick checking is superb; he must have stole the puck away 4-5 times last night.
- Colby Armstrong - Bozak – Kadri line looked really good. They’ve been practicing together for a while now, and they could be the team’s third line this season. It’s important to note that they were essentially the team’s second line last night, and received more ice time than they would normally get, so you’ll have to temper expectations. Speaking of Bozak: a season in a lesser role should help his game all around.
- Jake Gardiner made a very strong case for staying with the team last night. Will be interesting to see what happens with the logjam on defense.
- Philippe Dupuis had a good first game, playing a strong checking game and looking fearless with shot blocks.
Tonight’s lineups feature the Schenn and Kessel brothers. Phil Kessel and Luke Schenn will suit up for the Leafs, while Blake Kessel and Brayden Schenn will lineup with the Flyers.
The Leafs will ice the following lines tonight:
Joffrey Lupul – Tim Connolly – Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur – Joe Colborne – Marcel Mueller
Nazem Kadri – Darryl Boyce – Luca Caputi
Greg Scott – Mike Zigomanis – Colton Orr
Cody Franson – Mike Komisarek
Jeff Finger – Luke Schenn
Simon Gysbers – Jesse Blacker
My thoughts on tonight’s lineup:
- Potential first line of Joffrey Lupul – Tim Connolly – Phil Kessel tonight. Keep an eye on how they play.
- Both Colborne and Kadri are getting an extended look, along with Marcel Mueller and Luca Caputi. (All for the third line winger spot)
- Darryl Boyce and Mike Zigomanis both play tonight as they, along with Dupuis, compete for the Leafs’ fourth line pivot duties.
- Greg Scott gets a shot tonight, he plays a similar game to Kenny Ryan.
- Simon Gysbers and Jesse Blacker are an interesting pairing as they could be the Marlies top line pairing this season.
- James Reimer will supposedly play the entire game.
The Flyers will counter with this lineup:
Sergey Bobrovsky, Michael Leighton
Oskar Bartulis, Matt Carle, Erik Gustaffsson, Blake Kessel, Olivier Lauridsen, Andreas Lilja, Matt Walker
Sean Couturier, Ben Holmstron, Adam Mair, Michael Nylander, Matt Read, James van Riemsdyk, Zac Rinaldo, Brayden Schenn, Tom Sestito, Wayne Simmonds, Mike Testwuide, Eric Wellwood, Harry Zolnierczyk
The game will be on LeafsTV at 7PM EST. The next set of cuts (around 30 of them) will take place tomorrow or the day after. Stuart Percy and David Broll are both injured and are unlikely to see preseason action.
Who wins tonight? What’s the score going to be? Which player(s) will stand out? Let us know below, or through Twitter.