The first two preseason games are in the books. There are certainly more games to be played before the regular season starts, but each game counts for players who are looking to make their mark.
This piece will take a look at each roster player’s performance, then will rank each non-roster player and summarize their performance in their game against Ottawa below.
Note: These are personal observations, feel free to disagree.
Roster Players (listed alphabetically in groups)
The “Excellent” Group
Connor Brown (1)- Some may not have placed Connor Brown into the “excellent” category. He was held pointless and didn’t get in on a ton of the action. But his effort was excellent. It’s fun to watch him play, because he loses so few puck battles. Brown was one of the hardest workers in either of the games against the Senators.
Patrick Marleau (2)- Similar to how the Tavares-Marner connection looks to be clicking, so does the Matthews-Marleau connection. They teamed up for a great first goal and Marleau was great at battling for ice in front of the net.
Mitch Marner (1)- Mitch Marner may have been the best player on the ice in either of the games. He’s able to find anyone with the puck, was able to find Tavares anywhere in the offensive zone and it seems as though he’s in the same form as he was in last year’s playoff series.
Auston Matthews (2)- Matthews was great again. He’s excellent in using his body to win puck battles and buying time with the puck to make plays. As usual, most times he was along the boards battling for a puck or had to make a move around a player, it usually worked out pretty well for him. He and Marleau will be a great duo, not to mention when William Nylander returns.
John Tavares (1)- The chemistry between Marner and Tavares may be a bit of a forced narrative in Toronto media, but it did certainly show in their first preseason game together. Tavares was great, cutting across the slot and getting high quality shots. There’s not a ton to say other than Tavares was everything we expected in game one.
The “Pretty Good” Group
Travis Dermott (1)– Dermott’s puck-moving ability was on display against the Senators. He made an amazing stretch pass to put Zach Hyman on a breakaway and was an excellent puck-mover on the power play. Dermott made some mistakes in his own zone and was caught out of position a couple times early on, but overall defensively he wasn’t too bad either.
Josh Leivo (1)– Leivo added a ton of energy and showed well in his first preseason game. One difference is that Leivo looked a lot more comfortable when the puck was on his stick.
Nikita Zaitsev (2)– Zaitsev was pretty good. He was more physical than normal, was much better battling around the net and was good for breaking up passes in the Leafs zone. He didn’t add a ton offensively, but overall he looked decent.
Kasperi Kapanen (2)– Kapanen started pretty slow, but was much better later on. In the second and third periods, Kapanen used his speed, both carrying the puck into the offensive zone more frequently than normal and backchecking to break up plays and force turnovers.
Morgan Rielly (1)- Rielly looked good which should surprise nobody. He wasn’t necessarily dominant, but was great for carrying the puck through the neutral zone and was defensively responsible.
The “Okay” Group
Connor Carrick (2)– Carrick played perfectly fine. Just from an NHL regular the last two seasons, he didn’t seem like he took big steps forward like some hoped he would. He was good away from the puck and did well forcing low-quality shots but looked similar to the same player we saw last season.
Tyler Ennis (2)– Some may disagree purely on the two goal stat, but for me, Ennis was only okay. He was rarely the one on the line with the puck and I don’t know that he would’ve stood out if he was on a different line. He definitely has speed and a nice shot, but he couldn’t do a lot with the puck when he had it he didn’t look like an excellent fit playing with Matthews and Marleau, especially early in the game. He was fine, but of course no Nylander replacement.
Zach Hyman (1)- Hyman was alright but on a line with John Tavares and Mitch Marner he kind of fell to the side. Hyman looked fine with the duo, but didn’t have the puck much at all and wasn’t overly effective.
Andreas Johnsson (2)– Johnsson was decent as well, but didn’t stand out like you’d maybe expect him to. He didn’t use his speed and didn’t carry the puck much. He blocked a couple shots but didn’t seem to want to hang on to the puck often.
The “Not So Great” Group
Ron Hainsey (1)- It’s one game, but it was a bad one. Hainsey was getting beat in the neutral zone, in his own end, it seemed like everywhere. It’s not worth looking at it as anything more than a bad game but Hainsey will need to be better, especially if he’s playing the same minutes as last year.
Nazem Kadri (1)- Kadri didn’t seem to have his head in the game. He caused the first goal almost as soon as the puck dropped and was easily rattled later on. He didn’t drive a ton of offense either and it was a little bit disappointing.
Non-Roster Players (Ranked by performance)
- Jeremy Bracco (2)– I think Bracco impressed just about everybody watching. His pass across the ice on to Matthews was something a lot of NHL players wouldn’t be able to do. Bracco fit right in and controlled play, especially once the Leafs were set up in the offensive zone, feeding the puck back to the blue line. His hockey sense to be able to make some of the plays he did was great.
- Par Lindholm (2)– There weren’t a ton of expectations for Lindholm but he was great as well. In my opinion he was the best player on his line, which featured two other players penciled in to the Leafs roster. Lindholm was excellent defensively and got in the way to break up passes several times and played great on the penalty kill. If there was doubt about him in the fourth-line centre spot, at least based on what we saw on Wednesday, there shouldn’t be anymore.
- Emerson Clark (1)– Clark really came out of nowhere and probably had quite a few fans pulling out their phones to search who the heck he is. Clark added a great physical aspect to the game, but was also able to make some excellent plays. He had great energy and his pass to Andreas Borgman was perfect. Clark should be really fun to watch throughout the rest of the preseason.
- Trevor Moore (1)- Moore played well and most of the time you knew when he was on the ice. He used his speed to generate chances. I wouldn’t expect he’s likely to make the team but he did show well.
- Adam Brooks (2)– Brooks was able to hang onto the puck below the goal-line and generate chances right in close. He has chemistry with Bracco and the two were good for getting shots from good scoring areas.
- Dymtro Timashov (1)– Timashov looked a little like he didn’t want to have the puck on his stick for too long. He didn’t play poorly, but also had a great opportunity to show well on the power play and I’m not sure he showed well enough to give Leafs’ coaches and management anything to talk about. Again, he was decent, but he didn’t exceed any expectations.
- Josh Jooris (2)– Jooris was half-decent. He can’t carry the play by any means, but did a good job getting to the net and was skating hard.
- Adam Cracknell (1)– Cracknell didn’t contribute to many hockey plays, but he was very physical and actually pretty fun to watch. He might be placed too high, but he was noticeably one of the most physical players on the ice.
- Pierre Engvall (2)– Engvall was engaged with the game, he just wasn’t great. He had a 2-on-1 which got broken up fairly easily and couldn’t carry the puck through the neutral zone, dropping the puck back for someone else to try once he couldn’t gain the zone. He didn’t have a great game but at least he was involved.
- Frederik Gauthier (2)- Every year there’s optimism for Gauthier to make the team, but I don’t think this year is any different. He was drastically outplayed by Par Lindholm, who he’s fighting against for the fourth-line centre position and he didn’t add anything to the game other than a bit of physicality.
- Carl Grundstrom (1)– For a player who’s considered one of the best prospects in the system, Grundstrom’s first game was a bit disappointing. He didn’t make bad decisions, he just wasn’t overly involved in the game. I kept forgetting he was playing, which is never a good sign in a tryout game.
- Rich Clune (2)– Clune was physical but really didn’t add a ton to the game.
- Chris Mueller (1)– I do wish they had played Semyon Der-Arguchinstev rather than Mueller. Like Gauthier, Grundstrom and Clune, Mueller didn’t add much to the game.
- Andreas Borgman (1)- Maybe we didn’t get a full grasp on what Borgman could do last season. In his first preseason game, Borgman was maybe even more physical, but also showed he could add an offensive aspect to his game. He jumped into the play to score his goal, made some great passes but was also very responsible in his own end.
- Igor Ozhiganov (1)- Ozhiganov showed well and looked very comfortable. He’s a good puck-mover but really looked good in his own zone, breaking up passes and using his size to win puck battles. He played a very simple game, but was very effective and won most of the battles he went in to. If it’s Ozhiganov versus Holl, Ozhiganov won round one.
- Calle Rosen (2)- Rosen wasn’t perfect, but looked better as the game went on. He had a bad turnover in his own end, but was great offensively. He made a great heads up play to Bracco for his goal, he used his body to rub players off the puck in the neutral zone and made a few really good passes. He’ll need to be a bit more responsible defensively, but overall he played well.
- Justin Holl (1)- Holl was decent, I might have just been expecting more. He’s very obviously in a battle to make the team but it looked like he didn’t want to have the puck much. It was off of his stick as soon as he had it and he had some trouble getting the puck up to the winger on the boards and just threw it back to the Senators a couple times. He didn’t stand out either for better or worse, but wasn’t overly impressive. He looked a little more NHL-ready than the likes of Liljegren and Sandin who are significantly younger, but not necessarily better than Borgman, Ozhiganov and Rosen, players closer to his own age.
- Rasmus Sandin (2)- Sandin looked good and a little bit like a left-handed Liljegren. He was very comfortable and definitely isn’t afraid to shoot from the point. Sandin wasn’t very hard on the puck but he’s also just 18 years old playing against many players who are a decade older. Sandin isn’t close to being ready for the NHL, but still looked decent and has a good base of skills to develop.
- Timothy Liljegren (2)- Don’t get me wrong, Liljegren played fine. He was great for getting shots on net, looked good playing with Sandin and is consistently one of the best puck-movers on the ice wherever he plays. But he was caught out of position in his own zone a few times and was pretty easy to knock off the puck or win battles against. Again, Liljegren played alright and it’s one game, but his showing made it seem like he’s not quite ready for the NHL just yet.
- Martin Marincin (2)- Marincin wasn’t awful. Really, I thought the only defenceman who had an actual poor performance in either game was Ron Hainsey. However Marincin got caught on a horrible pinch and didn’t even try to get back and got beat badly by Filip Chlapik. He didn’t clear the front of the net often but was able to make some nice, simple passes.
I’m not going to rank any of the goalies, just because it’s such a small sample size. To summarize, Andersen had to make some good saves in his two periods, McElhinney and Sparks were both good and Pickard was perfectly fine but didn’t get a ton of action.
Note: I think if Pickard was seriously in the mix for the backup goalie spot, he would’ve been given more time to play. It seemed more like a tune up for Andersen than a tryout for Pickard. Not that this is a groundbreaking discovery, but I really think it’s down to McElhinney or Sparks for the backup job.
Toronto’s next preseason game is tonight against the Buffalo Sabres.