2016-17 season preview: Toronto Maple Leafs

Auston Matthews' No. 34 Maple Leafs jersey is already flying off the shelves in Toronto. Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Maple Leafs organization's centennial anniversary no doubt will be a glorious celebration of the game of hockey. The bright, young talent that has taken over the team will be on display and will give a glimpse of what's to come. The odds are against the Leafs earning a postseason berth, however, but the arrival of Auston Matthews, last June's No. 1 overall selection in the NHL draft, already has Toronto fans revved up.

While the Maple Leafs and the NHL will honor the past, it will be a great season to look toward the future in Toronto. There's a lot to be excited about. It might take a few more years, but the dawn of a new era has arrived. The Toronto Arenas won the first Stanley Cup during the 1917-18 season. Maybe history will repeat itself 100 years later. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let's focus on the upcoming season.

Best new faces

Matthews, 19, is the fresh face of the future. The kid from Scottsdale, Arizona, proved his worth for Team USA at the World Championship last May and again for Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey. He's big, strong and extremely talented. He's smooth, and comfortable in his 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame. And his No. 34 Maple Leafs jersey is flying off shelves in Toronto. There's so much to like about this kid, and Toronto should be a perfect fit.

There's more to like about Toronto's ongoing rebuilding process than just A-Matts (I'm sure he's being called "Matty," but I like "A-Matts" better -- just saying). Anyway, the Maple Leafs added veteran forward Matt Martin during the offseason. The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder will add strength and grit to the Toronto lineup. The Maple Leafs also added defenseman Roman Polak along with goalie Frederik Andersen and Jhonas Enroth.

Biggest unknowns

The biggest unknown is how Matthews' game will translate at the NHL level. Playing pro in the Swiss Elite League last season, when he registered 24 goals and 22 assists for 46 points in 36 games for Zurich SC, was a good starting point. Plus, his contributions at the World Championship and the World Cup make it appear likely that his transition to the NHL should be relatively seamless. But let's not put this kid in the Hall of Fame just yet. He will have his growing pains, as all rookies do. He will be under a microscope in Toronto and expected to contribute right away. Fortunately, he seems built to handle the pressure.

Goaltending has been an issue for the Maple Leafs, so that's why the organization added Andersen and Enroth. The No. 1 spot could go to Andersen, but he'll quickly learn that Toronto is a long way from the Anaheim Ducks. The 27-year-old will see a lot more action now than he ever did, and it might take him a while to get used to seeing so much rubber. Enroth, 28, has served mostly as a backup in his NHL career, and that will be the same in Toronto.

Which Morgan Rielly will show up? This is a big season for the developing 22-year-old defenseman. It will be his fourth full season in the NHL, and he needs to contribute more offensively, especially on the power play.

Sure things

Even though William Nylander, 20, has only 22 games of NHL experience from a season ago, upper management knew he was ready even before he made his debut. He had six goals and seven assists for 13 points during those 22 games, but he showed high-end skill and a strong enough hockey sense to make everyone believe he's the real deal. While all eyes will be on Matthews, keep a close look on Nylander as the favorite to win the Calder Trophy (the rule states a player can have no more than 25 NHL games under his belt to still be considered a rookie).

I'm not sure you can consider Nazem Kadri as a "sure thing" -- but he's making improvements. The 25-year-old top-line center had 17 goals and 28 assists for 45 points last season, and he'll need to boost those numbers in 2016-17. He needs to become a leader on and off the ice for the younger players on the team.


The Maple Leafs will make strides again this season but ... . The organization's continued progression will be fun to watch, though. Eighth in the Atlantic.