With Wayne Simmond’s injury on Saturday, the Leafs find themselves losing more and more depth by the day. Simmond’s joins Nick Robertson, Joe Thornton, Jack Campbell, and Travis Dermott as the Leafs players dealing with injuries, and while the Leafs have been lucky enough so far to not have any of their big names hurt (aside from Matthews missing a game), the Leafs depth continues to be tested.
So, what should the Leafs look at as their lineup while all of these players are out of the lineup? Here are my thoughts.
Zach Hyman – Auston Matthews – Mitch Marner
This one’s kind of a no-brainer. They’ve played well since Thornton’s injury, so why break up a good thing.
Jimmy Vesey – John Tavares – William Nylander
This is probably going to be a hot take, but I’d rather Keefe not put Ilya Mikheyev back on the Tavares line. When that line is together so far this season, they have 37.8% of the shot attempts and 30.57% of the expected goals. With their depth already depleted, I’d rather one of the two lines that should be dominating for us not be getting caved in.
Vesey has seen the most success with those two so far, at least among players that are healthy and not already on the first line. While Vesey didn’t do a ton with them, we know that Nylander and Tavares are good enough to make him competent, and then the Leafs have more options (like Mikheyev) in the bottom six.
Pierre Engvall – Alex Kerfoot – Ilya Mikheyev
The only reason Engvall is on the third line is because I don’t want to split up the fourth line you’ll see up next, and I’d probably trust Engvall in a third line role over Adam Brooks and Alexander Barabonov. I think if you’re swapping players out of the lineup, it’s going to be that 3LW spot with Engvall, and when Robertson gets healthy (since he’ll likely be the first one back from injury), you can slot him there as well.
Nic Petan – Travis Boyd – Jason Spezza
This line has been dynamite through two games together, so they should definitely get more time together, especially with all the injuries.
Jake Muzzin – Justin Holl
This has easily been the Leafs best pair so far this season, with Holl emerging as an even better defenseman than we thought. You definitely cannot split this up.
Morgan Rielly – TJ Brodie
I pick this pairing hesitantly because it has been kind of bad, although it has gotten better lately. I was starting to look at having Rielly on the third pair, but the problem is that the person I would have brought up in his place in Travis Dermott is injured. So, this pair remains for now (and also gets a better chance to prove itself).
Mikko Lehtonen – Zach Bogosian
I’d like to see Rasmus Sandin actually get an opportunity, but it would also be nice to see Lehtonen get consistent ice time to actually find his game at the NHL level. He was good on Saturday, so that might bode well for the Leafs.
I also wouldn’t hate a Lehtonen-Sandin pair, but Bogosian is stuck to this lineup like Gorilla Glue Girl’s hair, so I know I won’t get that chance. Again, not that Bogosian has been bad, but I wouldn’t say he’s been so good that he should stay in the lineup every game.
Looking ahead to the next couple weeks, I’d maybe try and see if you can squeeze in a couple of easy starts for Michael Hutchinson, just to make sure they don’t run Frederik Andersen into the ground. He should for sure get the start tomorrow considering how the Canucks have played, and while he’ll also get the one of the back-to-backs on the 17th and 18th against the Sens, I wouldn’t be apposed to giving him the start on the 15th as well, since it’s the Sens. They might as well try and get Hutchinson in some games while the competition is easy.