Leading up to the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, I was asked many times over who I thought the Toronto Maple Leafs might take with the 17th selection in the first round. Hell, most websites and hockey insiders all had an opinion on which defenceman best suited the team’s needs moving forward. Lets be honest, the blueline was the most obvious area of concern for the organization.
Each time that somebody asked about Timothy Liljegren, I calmly explained to these ‘dreamers’ that no team in the NHL would pass up on elite talent like Liljegren, let alone sixteen other teams (or draft positions).
These people just didn’t get it.
Heading into the 2016-17 season, it was projected that the native of Kristianstad, Sweden was the 2nd best talent/prospect overall. On the planet, in the world !!! There is not a snowballs chance in hell, he would be available to the Leafs UNLESS they somehow traded up to get this kid.
As the season progressed the young Swede kept dropping in the rankings. What was wrong? How did a kid with this much talent suddenly appear to be ‘average’?
Not long after these drops in the rankings, it was apparent that something was wrong. Liljegren did not have the jump that he once possessed and his decision making was suspect and seemed clouded. Then it was announced that Timothy, a young man of only 18 years of age, had a case of mononucleosis. Now he is not the first young man ever to catch a case of the ‘kissing disease’, but when the first symptom listed is fatigue you can understand how detrimental it would be for an elite hockey talent.
Fast forward to the Draft.
As Leafs fans all sat around nervously awaiting the selection (lets be honest here it was made a lot less stressful after Matthews, Marner, Nylander picks in previous years), Liljegren kept dropping. And dropping.
So with the 17th overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, the Maple Leafs selected the 6’0 192 pound, smooth skating Timothy Liljegren.
How is it even possible that the Leafs get this fortunate AGAIN after drafting Auston Matthews first overall just the year before? Who the hell cares? HE IS ALL OURS !!
So where does that bring us heading into the 2017-18 hockey season?
There are basically three choices for where Liljegren can play.
First with the Toronto Maple Leafs. OK, its a massive stretch but anything is possible with a defense core that is as ‘suspect’ as the one in the NHL. Liljegren would have to leap frog several players, stand out in Camp and pre-season games and FORCE the Leafs to say ‘you just aren’t ready kid’.
Where have we heard this before?
More realistically however, there are TWO places wher he could play. Leafs General Manager was quoted earlier this summer by saying…..
— Michael Augello (@MikeInBuffalo) July 12, 2017
And shortly after that comment from Lou Lamoriello came the announcement that Liljegren had signed his ELC with ‘Salary A’ bonus.
— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) July 12, 2017
So with all of that information in play, the second option is a return to Sweden to play more hockey in his own birth country and play for Rogle? Maybe, it’s a solid choice for him based on familiarity. At 18 years of age, there is nothing like some home cooking, a chance to grow without the lights of TSN in your eyes, and just get comfortable in your own skin again after a tough draft year. Liljegren would love the big ice, the room to roam and make highlight plays. The room to see the ice and pick it apart like a surgeon.
Sure that is a great option as well, but not the one that I want.
No I want Timothy Liljegren, the smooth skating puck distributing machine, to be a member of the Toronto Marlies for the 2017-18 season.
To me, it makes perfect sense.
First of all, he has very little left to learn back in Sweden when it comes to that particular style of play, and how he fits into it. Instead, it is now time for Liljegren to learn how to play on the North American rink versus players that have either played in the NHL or are about to step into the NHL. This is not a slight on the talent levels back home in Sweden, it is merely an opinion on how the AHL should be used as a stepping stone in the future.
Secondary to the aforementioned talent he will face, the size and pace of the North American game can catch players out of their comfort zones when it comes to timing, not only in passing but when to jump into the rush or pinch. This type of timing would be beneficial to learn during this season as opposed to being forced into it next year if/when he makes the Leafs team.
All about systems in Toronto. In my opinion, I believe that the Powerplay for our AHL affiliate is run similarly to that of the big club in the NHL. He can learn it now, or he can be forced into it in the future. I know which side of this coin I would prefer to see.
Stats apparently suggest that the most proficient of all Powerplay set ups is the 4 forward and 1 defense model. While many old school observers and fans will argue about the merits of it, Coach Mike Babock and Marlies Coach Sheldon Keefe both employ this set up for the man advantage. Liljegren is obviously going to be a big part that type of deployment if he is going to be effective in the professional game of hockey so let us get him started on that immediately see where he can benefit from extra tutelage and move forward.
With the special teams play being a factor, so will ice time. With the potential promotion to the Leafs of Travis Dermott, Liljegren will have an opportunity to see a lot of ice for Coach Keefe. Give him #1 pairing minutes (after slowly being eased into them) along side Andrew Nielsen or another left handed shot that he may prefer playing with. Whoever it is, let the kid roam a bit but protect him enough that each mistake does not end up in the back of his net.
When I discussed the comforts of living at home in Sweden, it can be argued there are many here in Toronto as well. No I do not mean at the local Ikea, but the Swedish contingent within the Leafs organization seems to be growing by the day.
Fellow Swedes such as Andreas Johnsson, Carl Grundstrom (for camp at the very least), Tobias Lindberg can all make the city seem more hospitable, not to mention the new additions of Calle Rosen and Andreas Borman to the organization. Holy meatballs that is a lot of flowing blonde locks for one team.
And last but not least, it will give the Toronto Maple Leafs/Marlies management group an opportunity to study his growth, and progression live at the Ricoh Coliseum whenever they get the desire to see how he is adjusting to the Professional game in North America.
So there they are, my reasons to keep newest Leafs player Timothy Liljegren here in Toronto for this upcoming season. However, I want to include one caveat.
Let Liljegren join Team Sweden for the World Junior Championships this year.
There is an unwritten (or is it on a paper napkin somewhere??) that the NHL and SHL agree that if a Swedish player is in the NHL, that is great for him to be in North America but if that player is not going to be utilized by the parent hockey team, he will be returned to Sweden for his development and growth of the game in that country. This olive branch to have him playing at the WJCs will appease the powers that be in Swedish hockey plus give the young man a mental break from the grind of a Professional season of hockey in North America.
We shall see how it all transpires in the near future, but my best guess is that Timothy Liljegren will turn heads at the Rookie Tourney starting next weekend at the Ricoh Coliseum, and never look back from there.
As Lou Lamoriello said recently in an interview with SiriusXM NHL Network “Talent like this does not come along that often…..”