As the Toronto Maple Leafs prepare for the upcoming season, one question looms large: Who will secure the coveted top-line left-wing spot alongside superstar center Auston Matthews? This decision, which will likely be determined in training camp, could have a significant impact on the team’s success throughout the season. Jonas Siegel of The Athletic offered up four options and taking a look at his reasoning, it makes sense to explore the pros and cons for each.
Option 1: Tyler Bertuzzi
Among the candidates, Siegel writes that Tyler Bertuzzi stands out as the likeliest choice. With prior top-line experience during his tenure with the Detroit Red Wings, Bertuzzi brings valuable experience to the table. He has scored 20 or more goals three times in his NHL career and he possesses qualities reminiscent of someone who spent time with Matthews in the past, Michael Bunting (maybe an upgrade).
It’s worth highlighting that no one played alongside Matthews more than Bunting over the past two seasons, underscoring the importance of finding a compatible linemate for the star center. When assessing the candidates, Bertuzzi emerges as a clear frontrunner to assume this pivotal role. He writes, “And if I were picking one player to be that guy this season it would be Bertuzzi, no question.”
** Authors Note:
I tend to agree with the assessment here. Bertuzzi is the ideal candidate for this spot and the early part of the season will be treated as somewhat of a tryout to see if the Maple Leafs can find magic early. If Bertuzzi and Matthews make a great duo, not only with the team likely stick with these two, but we could be talking about an early extension on January 1.
Option 2: Matthew Knies
Siegel writes that Matthew Knies emerges as an intriguing candidate, having showcased his comfort and adaptability in a brief stint with the team. Head coach Sheldon Keefe entrusted him with a role alongside Matthews and William Nylander during a crucial Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Knies played a decisive role in setting up John Tavares’ series-winning goal.
** Author’s Note:
However, nothing for Knies is yet guaranteed and he’s relatively inexperienced compared to some of the other options on this list. There is going to be a bright spotlight on this line and it’s asking a lot for a rookie to maintain the type of pace that would be necessary to stick there. The Maple Leafs might find it a better exercise to let him work his up the lineup, making the case that he’s earned the chance to get his looks beside Matthews.
Option 3: Max Domi
Max Domi presents an intriguing choice for the top-line left-wing spot due because he’s an excellent playmaker who can create scoring opportunities for Matthews. He’s less of a grinder than he is a skilled offensive player with a high hockey IQ. He and Matthews could make for a great fit.
** Author’s Note:
Domi has proven in the right situation he can be a big point producer. At the same time, he might not be a natural fit as the first choice by Keefe. Domi might be the player you elevate when he’s having a good game or if the chemistry on the top line is a bit off. He’s an adept defender, so putting him with Matthews when the games are close makes sense because it lets Matthews still be Matthews while shielding the team against potential defensive vulnerabilities.
Option 4: Calle Järnkrok
On Siegel’s list, Calle Järnkrok, who had a brief stint alongside Matthews last season, rounds out the list of contenders. There are questions about its sustainability and he’s not likely to get the first, second, or third opportunity. Still, his hard forechecking style adds an element of tenacity to the line.
Siegel argues that Järnkrok’s strong fit might be on the right wing alongside David Kämpf, making this combination an appealing alternative.
** Author’s Note:
While Järnkrok brings certain strengths to the table, there are doubts about whether he possesses the necessary offensive flair to maintain a top-line role. He’s the type of winger you put on that line when all other options have failed.
Next: Three Reasons Why the Maple Leafs Love Calle Jarnkrok