Toronto Maple Leafs 2016-17 NHL Season Preview

Auston Matthews hasn't yet played a game in the Blue and White and already he is a fast favourite with the Toronto crowd, getting a huge cheer, if not larger, than stalwart Morgan Rielly during World Cup of Hockey introductions.

A brand new NHL season is drawing very near so to get you prepared, we’re previewing what’s ahead for each of the 30 NHL teams. Here’s a look at the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Maple Leafs select Matthews first overall
Toronto trades Bernier to Anaheim, acquire Andersen in separate deals
Andersen injured in Olympic qualifying, misses World Cup

Head coach: Mike Babcock
GM: Lou Lamoriello
Team payroll: $71.0 million ($73 million salary cap)

Acquisitions: Auston Matthews, Nikita Zaitsev, Matt Martin, Roman Polak, Jhonas Enroth, Frederik Andersen

Key departures: Jonathan Bernier, Colton Orr, P-A Parenteau, Michael Grabner, Brad Boyes, Mark Arcobello

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Rookies To Watch: The potential list of rookies here is a long one, topped by the No. 1 overall pick from June’s draft. Auston Matthews will undoubtedly make the roster out of camp, but what can realistically be expected out of him in Year 1? Fifty points? Second-line minutes? More? The bigger the impact he has, the better off Toronto will be.

Beyond Matthews, a less obvious player to watch is Nikita Zaitsev, a 24-year-old undrafted defenceman signed out of the KHL. Regarded as a smooth-skating offence generator, Zaitsev could add an intriguing element to a blue line that Morgan Rielly is set to break out on. Zaitsev is still a mostly unknown quantity who will surely need time to adapt to the North American game, but with all the focus on Toronto’s young forwards, don’t lose sight of Zaitsev.

Mitch Marner had a good training camp and it looks as though he’ll at least start the season with Toronto instead of heading back to the OHL’s London Knights. And flashy William Nylander, who had 45 points in 38 AHL games last season and earned 22 NHL games, will retain his rookie status.

Toronto will have a successful season if…
What’s a successful season for a team that’s coming off a 30th-place finish? The Maple Leafs need to see some progression this season. It can be hard to get out of a culture of losing and finishing with a high draft pick every year (ask the Oilers) so the Leafs can’t get comfortable with that situation. Nazem Kadri now has a long-term contract and needs to step up and show why he’s worth investing in. Van Riemsdyk needs to stay healthy and fill some of the goal scoring void left by Phil Kessel’s departure a year ago. Rielly had an electrifying World Cup performance and looked more than capable of leading Toronto’s defence core to the next level. And, of course, a Calder Trophy-type season from Matthews would go a long way. The Maple Leafs need to see improvement and a move forward towards a rebuild conclusion.

Toronto will have an unsuccessful season if…
If the Leafs have trouble dealing with adversity, they’ll be right back where they were last season. Let’s be real: the playoffs seem a long shot and there will be challenging stretches throughout the winter. There will be losing streaks and the Leafs have to be prepared to deal with the media and fan reactions to those events. It’s still a young team so it can be easier said than done, but Toronto still needs to learn to push through. Frederik Andersen is the one being charged to try and control the bad times with strong play in net. Jonathan Bernier’s struggles were a major setback for last year’s team, so they’re counting on Andersen being a steadier hand. If he can’t do that, the road gets even tougher for Toronto.

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