The Toronto Maple Leafs ended last season in a similar way to how they’ve finished the last several: in a disappointing playoff loss. This year looked like the best chance the Leafs had to break their Stanley Cup curse, and once again, they didn’t even get close.
However, there is optimism. The Leafs had a strong offseason, and now, expectations are high again. The Leafs are one of the favourites with the top odds on gambling sites like Bet365 Ontario entering the new season. However, if they are going to make a run, they’re going to need a few players to find a new level. Let’s look at some of the Leafs’ players who need to perform at their best to give the Leafs a real chance at the Cup.
Matthew Knies isn’t a make-or-break player for the Leafs just yet. He is only 20 years old. But the big forward is a crucial part of the team’s future, and when he was healthy in the playoffs, he was a legitimate top-six forward. With Bunting leaving the team, Knies could find himself in a regular role for the team. If he is able to play at a similar level to how he performed in the playoffs while bringing significant physicality, it could be a major lift to the Leafs’ chances of making a big playoff run.
Ilya Samsonov looked like a legitimate starter in his first year owning the crease with the Leafs. He played well throughout the season, although he fell apart against the Panthers in the playoffs. The Leafs awarded him an extension, and he will be the unquestioned starter going into next year. He is absolutely one of the most critical players on the team next year, as you can’t win a Cup without having quality goaltending. If Samsonov can reach a higher level as he enters his prime at just 26, he will elevate the Leafs’ ceiling.
This may be optimistic, as the Leafs just signed Klingberg as something of a flier. But it is an exciting signing, considering how good Klingberg has been at points in his career. Klingberg once nearly had 70 points as a defenceman and has been an incredible puck-mover at points of his career. If he can bring that high-level backline playmaking to augment what the Leafs already have with Morgan Reilly, that will add a dangerous new element to the team. Just another 40+ point season would go a long way.
Fans are excited to have another Domi back wearing a Maple Leafs jersey. Max Domi may not bring the fierceness his dad brought, but he should bring plenty of skill to the Leafs’ forward group. Domi had some massively successful seasons, including a year with more than 70 points in 2019. The Leafs don’t need him to reach that level, but they will need him to be a quality secondary scoring option who generates his own offence, likely on the third line.
This may, admittedly, be a little unfair, considering Matthews has been a superstar since he arrived on the Leafs. But last season marked a significant falloff from his goalscoring pace the previous two years, and Matthews once again went cold in the playoffs. The Leafs need him to be that dominant player he has shown himself to be in the regular season and in the playoffs. He needs to lead from the front and step up with clutch moments as the all-time greats do. If he can’t do that, the Leafs don’t have a legitimate hope of winning the Stanley Cup.
Joseph Woll has been an exciting goalie prospect in the Maple Leafs’ pipeline for a few years now, and he got his most sustained look last season, with seven regular season games and four strong appearances in the playoffs. Now, he will be the Leafs’ backup, and if Samsonov struggles, he will have a legitimate opportunity to seize the primary role. Woll is still 25, but he has all the ingredients to be a high-level performer. With a more prominent role this season, the Leafs will need him to become the high-level performer he is capable of being.