Maple Leafs looking to build on promising season
TORONTO (CP) — The Toronto Maple Leafs opened training camp on Thursday looking to build on last season’s promising platform and a sparkling array of young talent.
The Leafs listed 73 players on their camp roster with most of the attention focused on three veteran newcomers: forwards Patrick Marleau and Dominic Moore and defenceman Ron Hainsey, who have 3,247 NHL regular-season games between them.
“I think we’re an improved team talent-wise, experience-wise from last year,” said head coach Mike Babcock. “We’ve done more and now we’d like to take a step. And we think these guys, because of the men they are as much as because the players they are, are going to help us with that.”
Toronto (40-27-15) finished eighth in the Eastern Conference last season before taking the first-place Washington Capitals to six games in a series that had five overtime contests. Led by rookie of the year Auston Matthews, the young Leafs finished with 95 points during the regular season — up from 69 the previous season.
While expectations are high among fans after that, defenceman Morgan Rielly played down what the team did last year.
“We’re happy with some strides forward that we took last year but when you look back at it, I think we made the playoffs on the last day of the year and lost in the first round,” he said. “So we’ve got a long way to go to get to where we want to and we’re all aware of that.”
Added GM Lou Lamoriello: “We’re still growing.”
Babcock finds himself with a wealth of options up front with the addition of Marleau and Moore. The Leafs had three successful lines last season in Matthews, William Nylander and Zach Hyman; Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk and Mitch Marner; and Nazem Kadri, Leo Komorov and Connor Brown. Add in Matt Martin, Nikita Soshnikov, Josh Leivo and other fourth-line contenders and the numbers game is very tight.
Told he had more NHL-ready forwards than openings, Babcock grinned. “Isn’t that great, eh?” he said. “The right people always end on the team. Sometimes they don’t end up on the team right away,” he added.
As for who Marleau will play with, Babcock said he told the former San Jose Shark he wasn’t sure, “but they’re all good.”
Babcock, in mid-season inspirational form, sees more progress ahead. But he warned of ups and downs on the journey.
“You just take a step a day. I need guys to be all in every day. That’s what I expect. Be focused, be all in every single day and we’ll get better together gradually.”
Hainsey, who won the Cup with Pittsburgh last season after joining the Penguins from Carolina, will bolster a defence that includes Rielly, Jake Gardiner and Nikita Zaitsev.
Frederik Andersen returns as the No. 1 goalie but this time he is healthy from the get-go.