Fantasy Puck Preview: Toronto Maple Leafs

Scott Cullen
9/6/2009 7:31:15 AM
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While the summer of 2009 brought about a lot of change in Toronto, particularly on defence, which may result in better results on the ice, the fantasy appeal of the Maple Leafs is still at the lower end, in most cases.

Toronto's top returning scorer, Jason Blake, is an eager shooter and that's okay given the lack of proven finishers on this team. Last season, Blake rebounded to put up a more typical 25-goal season. The 36-year-old figures to still draw quality ice time as long as he's drawing his hefty paycheque and putting the puck in the net.

Often underrated Alexei Ponikarovsky set career marks with 23 goals and 61 points last season, which represents quality production from the wing. Entering the final year of his contract, Ponikarovsky ought to be motivated for another productive campaign.

Matt Stajan had a nice playmaking season with a career-best 40 assists and 55 points, but those numbers generally mean interest only in later rounds or in deeper leagues.

Though his upside doesn't seem that great, veteran Finnish winger Niklas Hagman has scored 49 goals over the last two seasons, while Lee Stempniak continues to try and recapture the form that saw him net 27 goals and 52 points in 2006-2007. On this team, both shouldn't lack for opportunities and could be 20-goal scorers.

The Leaf with the most upside as a scorer may be centre Mikhail Grabovski, who put up 48 points (and a surprising 92 penalty minutes) in his rookie season. Grabovski has the creativity and offensive drive to score more, so he could thrive with additional playing time in his second season with Toronto.

Given Toronto's efforts to re-shape the roster this summer, there could also be opportunities for rookies like collegians Tyler Bozak, Christian Hanson or Viktor Stalberg, but it's premature at this stage to anticipate significant NHL production from them.

Somewhat surprisingly, perhaps, Tomas Kaberle is still in Toronto and he'll be asked to do his standard job of running the power play. Limited to just 57 games last year, Kaberle finished with 31 points, which tied the second-lowest mark of his career. The Leafs don't appear to have many finishers, which could limit Kaberle's power play effectiveness, but he's scored at least 30 points with the man advantage in three of the last four seasons.

Though he only put up five points in 20 games last season, newcomer Francois Beauchemin should also get a chance to work the power play. He was stuck behind Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer on the Anaheim depth chart, but Beauchemin doesn't have that problem in Toronto. If not Beauchemin, it's possible that Ian White would be the one to see additional PP time.

Thus far, all indications are that Vesa Toskala will have a chance to re-establish himself as Toronto's number one goaltender, but he will surely be pushed by Swedish sensation Jonas Gustavsson. If Toskala is healthy, following hip surgery, he'll be playing behind a much-improved defence, so he may be a decent fantasy selection. Gustavsson would qualify as more of a sleeper/long-term keeper option.

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