BY NICHOLAS LUCCIANTONIO
After a fantastic bounce back year by the Toronto Maple Leafs, they head into the 2017/18 season not being the underdog yet again, but being an exciting team with undeniable hype surrounding them.
The Leafs are a feared team after everything they’ve shown the league last season.
The team has a lot of spectacular young talent that is going to be a force to be reckoned with in the near future, as well as showing a glimpse of that last season.
Leafs TV broadcaster Paul Hendrick believes there is an important factor that affects how well the team does in their upcoming season: staying healthy.
“Everything depends on health; the Maple Leafs are a rising team. If they’re as fortunate as they were last year, they’ll make it third in the conference. They have tremendous training staff, great facilities, but there’s a degree of luck that goes along with that as well. If this team is able to stay healthy, and that’s starting with the goaltender, they got a chance to really impress some people and continue to grow from where they were a year ago.”
The Leafs had a whole nine players that played every game last season, which resulted in a fantastic year for them. Two years ago in their last place finish, they only had two.
Toronto Maple Leafs mega fan, Tony Cavacece has been watching the team for 50 years hoping for another Stanley Cup parade to return and make its way down Yonge Street.
“The Leafs right now have a perfect window, having a mix of the new and upcoming talent and the more established players who have been around,” Cavacece said. “It’s a great combination to have.”
The team has a few key players like Tyler Bozak and James Van Riemsdyk, whose contracts are expiring at the end of the upcoming season. With all the money the Leafs will have to put into their young superstars, most don’t expect those veterans to return.
A big part of their success has been their rookies. Players like Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews made an immediate impact on the team, scoring four goals in his first NHL game and having 40 on the year with 69 points. Though he didn’t do it alone. Forwards William Nylander and Mitch Marner had 61 points in their first seasons as well.
Even with the great prospects that made the jump last season, there are many more in the Leafs organization that have yet to play on the Leafs roster. Travis Dermott and Andrew Nielson are two great defensive prospects that could make the NHL team this upcoming season.
“I think Andrew has got a bright future with the club, but not yet. He has a tremendous shot, but he just has to stay with the Marlies for a bit more to work on his skating and his positioning. I think Travis Dermott is the one player on that existing group that has a legitimate shot at cracking the lineup on a possible third ling pairing,” said Hendrick.
The six-foot defenceman was drafted 34th overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2015. Dermott made his third try at cracking the roster this year at their training camp in Niagara Falls this past weekend. This year could be the year he makes the team if he is ready.
This year has been somewhat rejuvenating for many Leafs fans including Cavacece. “It’s like I’m reborn again watching hockey for the first time. When I started watching them in 1967, I was too young and naive to understand the process. For many years after that I still didn’t understand the process and I got excited every year because I thought they had a chance. Now looking back, I know that they didn’t and they actually do now,” said Cavacece. “It’s such an amazing feeling to have.”
In just a span of one year, the team has gone from a bottom feeder in the NHL to a powerhouse that is still growing and improving. “I think they’re going to be doing really well this year. They’re one of the top four or five teams in the league I think,” Cavacece said.