Toronto Maple Leafs: Rookies Making Roster Cuts Tough on Mike Babcock
By: David Morassutti
With one more round of cuts to come the rookies on the Toronto Maple Leafs are leaving coach Mike Babcock with a tough decision before opening night next week
One of the answers that Mike Babcock has grown accustomed to since taking over for the Toronto Maple Leafs this summer is his admiration for the team’s younger players. After each game he has not been shy in saying he “likes the kids” or that he “likes the way the kids play”, and honestly you cannot blame him. Watching the team in preseason, the players that have stood out the most have been the young prospects, Brad Boyes and P.A. Parenteau, who were both signed one-year contracts after being bought out. There has not been as much talk about the players who have been a part of this team since the Brian Burke era, but when Babcock does mention them, it has not been in the same tone as the younger players. Is Babcock trying to send a message to those players by constantly talking up the young players? Absolutely.
After poor showing against the Buffalo Sabres where turnovers plagued the team the only bright spot that came out of the game was the duo of Connor Brown and William Nylander. The duo almost combined for two goals in the game and Brown almost caught Jake Eichel on his shorthanded breakaway goal. Out of the group of rookies still on the Leafs training camp roster Brown and Nylander have shown the most progress and it would not surprise anyone if they are in the starting lineup.
As it stands the Leafs have 42 players in the roster
Photo courtesy of mapleleafs.com
It is expected that both Garret Sparks and Antoine Bibeau get sent back to the Toronto Marlies as both are expected to share the duties in goal this season. Out of the forwards remaining, Richard Clune, Byron Froese, Matt Frattin, Kasperi Kapanen will probably be hard pressed to make the team. On defence, Mark Fraser was let go but there are still a lot of questions to be answered there with only Jake Gardiner, Morgan Rielly, Dion Phaneuf and Matt Hunwick with a secured spot on the backend. It could end up being Andrew Campbell, Petter Granberg, Rinat Valiev, T.J. Brennan, and possible Stephane Robidas being sent down.
If there is a list of young players that could be in contention for a roster spot instead of going down to the Marlies it would be: Nylander, Brown, Zach Hyman, and Nikita Soshnikov up front, Scott Harrington, Victor Loov, Martin Marincin and Stuart Percy. While the organization has preached patience with the young players, some of the young players have shined in their opportunity and you cannot blame Babcock for wanting to give them the opportunity especially if other players have not earned it. Some of these players could get a couple of games in the NHL before being sent back down to the Marlies and others may stick with the team for most of the season.
There are many expecting the Leafs to be a bottom five team in the league this season. The only way that happens is if the team struggles to score goals but this year will be different than past years because Babcock will make the players accountable and work harder than they have before. If that means putting in rookies that are more deserving of the roster spot, then so be it.