Peter Baracchini The Hockey Writers
3 Maple Leafs Flying Under the Radar in the Playoffs
It’s a well-known fact that the Toronto Maple Leafs boast one of the best offensive units in the NHL. All the focus seems to be on the team’s top offensive threats heading into the postseason, and rightfully so. Of the six players to score double-digit goals, five scored 15 or more during the regular season, all of whom are in their top-six forward group.
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The Maple Leafs’ secondary scoring and contributions from the bottom-six forwards proved that they can be key factors during the regular season. The Leafs could’ve had more goal scorers with double-digits, if weren’t for players missing time with injuries as well as late-season call-ups. Alexander Kerfoot and Jason Spezza had nine and Ilya Mikheyev, Andreas Johnsson (both missed significant time with injuries) and Pierre Engvall had eight. They could’ve had an additional five goal scorers in that category.
The Maple Leafs have the scoring depth, and many players that have been underrated all season could prove to be key factors that can attribute to the team’s success. During the training camp and exhibition game against the Montreal Canadiens, multiple players have elevated their play and caught the eye of many, especially the coaching staff. Here are three Maple Leaf players that could fly under the radar during the postseason.
It didn’t take long for Mikheyev to get comfortable in North America. He recorded six points in eight games and only got better as the season progressed. During what seemed like an impressive rookie season, he eventually hit a bump in the road after suffering a major hand laceration that kept him out of the lineup for three months.
When the season was paused, many players needed the added time to heal up, and Mikheyev was one of those that benefited. It seemed to have worked. He came to camp hungrier and more motivated than ever. He seems to be on another level than he was before he sustained his injury.
It’s a small sample, but Mikheyev was one of the major standouts during the Maple Leafs training camp. Being placed on a line with John Tavares and Mitch Marner, there seemed to be another gear in his game that was untapped before. He’s putting forth the effort and keeping up with the two as the line had immediate chemistry.
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While he performed well starting off in a third-line role, Mikheyev exceeded those expectations. He was given the opportunity to be an essential factor in a more prominent role for the Maple Leafs and he hasn’t taken it for granted. He scored a hat trick during one of the team’s scrimmages and went further scoring the first goal of their game against the Canadiens in only 33 seconds.
Mikheyev has flown under the radar all season considering his contributions. His 23 points had him ranked 13th among rookie skaters and was averaging 0.59 points per game. He also had a strong Corsi-for percentage when he was on the ice, at 53.48. He even found time on the penalty kill, averaging 1:55 of ice time per game. Already with great numbers, they could’ve been higher if he didn’t suffer a serious injury.
The fact that he’s moved higher in the lineup shows that head coach Sheldon Keefe has faith in Mikheyev’s ability to be an impactful player in a more prominent role. If he can continue to produce and be effective in a top-six role like we’ve seen so far, then Mikheyev’s contributions will help the Maple Leafs in the postseason.
When the Maple Leafs acquired Kerfoot in the blockbuster deal that also saw Tyson Barrie come over in the Nazem Kadri deal, Kerfoot was going to be a different player than Kadri.
Fans weren’t going to see the same tenacious, in-your-face style that Kadri played. They were getting a more refined, defensive style that would benefit the team. After recording back-to-back 40-point seasons with the Colorado Avalanche, Kerfoot seemed to have taken a step back and wasn’t thrilled with his production and performance. A rough season is an understatement – a new system, new coach, new environment, a coaching change, switching from centre to wing, and facial surgery. That’s a lot to go through in your first season with a new team.
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From what we saw when the Maple Leafs returned, Kerfoot was one of those players that seemed to have regained his confidence and was more comfortable with his play. This couldn’t have come a better time for the third line centre.
THW’s own Adam Reid came out with a great article on the Maple Leafs getting a boost from Kerfoot. Reid talks about how more engaged Kerfoot was in all three zones and how a player like him could make a big impact during the postseason.
Kerfoot was by far the best the forward on the ice for the Maple Leafs against the Canadiens and his line with Nick Robertson and Kasperi Kapanen was absolutely dominant throughout the game. Kerfoot recorded two goals, one being short-handed and the other tipping in Morgan Rielly’s point shot. He was a workhorse all over the ice, going into the corners and battling in front of the net, while showing his defensive capabilities in his own end and on the penalty kill.
This is the type of play that Kerfoot wanted to have on a consistent basis all season. He has the ability to do the little things on the ice right. Plays like that are underappreciated, but they become extremely important in the playoffs. That is where Kerfoot can be even more valuable to his team’s success.
I was originally going to pick Nick Robertson in this space. He quickly made an immediate impact during camp and didn’t look out of place at all in his first pro game. But, in this case, the veteran who has had a successful career is too important to not mention.
Spezza, the oldest member of the team, doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves. While his days as a top offensive producer are behind him, he’s still capable of playing really well and being a complementary piece in a depth role. Being on a team as young as the Maple Leafs, Spezza is still relied on to be a voice in the dressing room.
At 37 years old, time isn’t on Spezza’s side in hopes of winning a Stanley Cup. A deep run with the Maple Leafs would mean everything to the veteran of 17 seasons. The closest he came was back in 2006-07 when his Ottawa Senators fell short to the Anaheim Ducks in the Cup Final. During that run, Spezza posted 7 goals and 15 assists. Throughout his career, he’s recorded 70 points in 80 playoff games. That experience and production speak volumes to Spezza’s attitude, determination, and the impact he can have with the Maple Leafs during this run.
From everything that he’s endured this season, including a possible rift with former head coach Mike Babcock, you can bet that Spezza is going to be hungry and motivated this time around. He still has a great shot, recording nine goals this season. His 56.52 high-danger goals-for percentage ranks second on the team to Auston Matthews with a minimum of 500 minutes played. Even though he’s in a depth role, Spezza can still be an important factor for the Maple Leafs offense by jumping into the play every now and then.
Depth players always seem to step up during the playoffs. Spezza can be that player who can rise to the occasion and be an important piece to the Maple Leafs’ success.
Aside from their “go-to” players, the Maple Leafs have many others that can make significant contributions during the postseason. A team with depth always finds success in the playoffs, and Toronto has an abundance of it where they can go above and beyond.
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