Earlier in the week we talked about my suggestion (and some of you agreed) that the Leafs really have two “fourth” lines, instead of a third and fourth line or two really good “third” lines.
I have felt that way most of this season and the occasional nice game from one of the bottom units doesn’t really sway my thinking, I have to admit. Not that these players can’t improve, or play solid games or do a good job, but I think they pretty much are what they are, as it were. There isn’t a higher ceiling for these players.
Today, I have a similar question for you, but it’s one I’d like you to honestly think on and consider: how many true “top-six” forwards do the Maple Leafs have right now? Think on that but let me also put it another way: If our guys were playing in Chicago, Boston, Detroit, San Jose, Vancouver or Pittsburgh (maybe even Philadelphia, Washington or with the New York Rangers), where would they fit?
I think we all agree that Kessel is a first-line player, certainly top-six on any team in the NHL. Lupul wasn’t, but based on current performance, he too is playing like a legitimate elite-level NHL’er. But things get kind of murky from there. When Grabovski is on his game, he is a dynamite little player. He obviously works hard at both ends of the ice, is shifty, tough for a small guy and he can finish—all good qualities you want to see in a player. So I’ll give him top-six status, though I know not everyone would agree with that.
That’s three guys on a roster of, say, 15 forwards.
Now I know some will want to jump in (fair enough) and say, “Wait, we also have Kadri, Frattin and Colborne waiting in the wings…next year they’ll all be here…” That’s true, next year they will likely all be here, for good. But even if I project optimistically, if we have any kind of rigorous standards for our assessment here, can we truthfully say that, at this point in each of their young careers, any (much less all) of those guys will be elite performers next season? Personally, I don’t believe so. (Down the road, maybe. We’ll see.)
But right now, focusing on the reality of the moment, now well into the fourth year of the Burke vision, who else could play on one of the top two lines on any of the teams I named above? MacArthur? Not for me. Kulemin. Maybe a year ago but certainly not right now. Bozak? I love the player and think he can be pretty darn good if he continues to develop, but, right now—top-six?
I’ve already made my case in yesterday’s post that the Leafs have about 8 guys who, for me, are fourth-line NHL players (including Boyce, and Rosehill). And on a really good NHL team, well, the number is even higher, in my mind. But I’d like to get your thoughts on who makes the grade, at this moment, as a top-end NHL forward.
The answers may give us a glimpse into who the Leafs are, despite some significant improvements in the past few years.