Leafs Prospects Give Fans Something To Believe In
In what was probably the first time in the history of the modern day franchise, the Toronto Maple Leafs had seven players making their Maple Leafs’ debut last night when the Blue and White faced off against Steven Stamkos and the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning.
Acquired via trades, Brooks Laich, Zach Hyman (NHL Debut) and Ben Smith found themselves inserted into last nights lineup, while five of Toronto’s most intriguing prospects in forwards William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, Nikita Soshnikov, goaltender Garret Sparks and defenseman Connor Carrick also dressed for the Maple Leafs.
Nylander, Kapanen, Hyman and Soshnikov all made their NHL debuts and none of them disappointed.
All four will likely represent a good portion of Toronto’s future success but, for the most part, with all due respect to the other kids, the fans were there to watch blue chip prospect Nylander.
Originally taken in the first round (8th overall) in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, Nylander has been tearing up the AHL with the Toronto Marlies, posting 18 goals and 27 assists for a total of 45 points through 37 games played.
Last night, Nylander showed signs of greatness, using his speed and creativity to confuse opposing defenders and playing a 200-foot game.
Desperate for a star player, Maple Leaf fans got a glimpse of what will likely be a key player in their beloved Maple Leafs’ rebuilding process. From what we witnessed last night, Nylander looks to be every bit as good as the experts have been saying, which left everyone in the building wanting more.
While Nylander was clearly the player most fans wanted to see, fellow call ups Kapanen, Hyman, Sparks and Soshnikov all played a spirited game, flashing signs of speed and skill on the forward lines while Sparks stopped 26 of 28 shots faced in the highly contested 2-1 loss to Tampa.
Outside of the two goals he gave up to Tampa Bay forward Tyler Johnson, Sparks put together an excellent game. With last nights loss, through six games played, Sparks’ record now stands at a respectable 3-2 with a tidy 2.48 goals against average and a respectable .917 save percentage.
While Sparks’ numbers only represent a small sample size at the NHL level, he too looks to be well suited for the NHL and, with the right supporting cast around him, should be able to evolve into a solid NHL goaltender.
Zach Hyman was all over the ice last night. At 6’1” and 205 pounds, Hyman used his physical prowess to his advantage. He was heavy on the puck, engaged along the boards and never quit.
As for Nikita Soshnikov, he too looked very comfortable out there. He exhibited a lot of speed and looks to be a creative player. He too had plenty of jump and was not intimidated by last seasons Stanley Cup Finalists.
Like Nylander, Hyman and Soshnikov, Kasperi Kapanen looked dangerous around the net and demonstrated a high compete level. He is fast, and seems to have a nose for the net.
And then there was Connor Carrick. After coming to the Maple Leafs via a trade with the Washington Capitals, he too made his NHL debut last night. Listed at 5’10” and 191 pounds, Carrick is looked upon as an undersized defenseman. That said, if last night is any indication, Carrick will not be a pushover to play against, as witnessed by his fierce puck battles and eventual fight with fellow undersized NHL player, Tampa Bay forward, J.T. Brown. While Carrick may have lost the fight, he certainly held his own and, in the process, served notice that he will not hesitate to drop the gloves if called upon.
Without question, last nights glimpse into the future was an exciting time for the fans, management, coaching staff and the players.
It will be interesting to see if last night’s success was due to the adrenaline everyone must have been feeling or if this group can put together another solid effort against Wednesday’s opponent— the first place Washington Capitals?
Washington will represent another tough challenge for the Maple Leafs young guns, but if last night was any indication, they will give a great effort, at the very least.
One things for sure, Toronto fans left last nights game wanting more. All of the Maple Leafs’ fans eyes will be glued to the TV screens Wednesday night.
Yep, the Kids are alright!