The Toronto Maple Leafs have always had a deficiency at left wing, and losing Zach Hyman in free agency didn’t help at all. While they made a few depth signings in Michael Bunting, Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase, they are still looking to fill the void that Hyman left. There are a few players available via free agency and trade that I think the Maple Leafs should consider to fill the hole on the left side.
J.T. Miller’s top seasons as far as point pace goes have been the last two with the Vancouver Canucks. He had 72 points in the 2019-20 season, playing primarily on Vancouver’s first line with Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser. Based on Miller’s basic stats, it may seem that he is strictly a playmaker. However, he is more than capable of being a goal scorer. This past season, Miller had 15 goals and 31 assists, and a Wins Above Replacement (WAR) of 0.6 through 53 games with the Canucks.
Miller is a hard working player. He skates to create open ice for scoring chances for himself and his teammates. When he finds open ice, he is able to take a good shot that has a good chance of going in, or make a pass to create a scoring chance. He can make decisions in a split second, which is an important skill given how fast today’s game moves.
This was a tough season for the Canucks. Elias Pettersson was injured for most of it, and the team struggled as a result. On top of poor performance, the Canucks missed almost a month of hockey due to a COVID-19 outbreak that hit them hard. Miller expressed in an interview that he didn’t feel ready to play at all after the outbreak within the organization. This undoubtedly effected his and his team’s play this season. Hopefully this season he can bounce back from the setbacks of the 2021 NHL season.
Meier was drafted 9th overall by San Jose in 2015, and still has lots of potential. He’s only 24 years old and has already played 317 NHL games, putting up 211 points over that time. On a struggling Sharks team this past season, Meier put up 31 points in 54 games with a WAR of -8.4. In 2018-19, Meier had 66 points in 78 games for his highest point total in a single NHL season.
Meier’s production has slowed a bit since the 2018-19 season, but the Sharks have also struggled, and Meier hasn’t exactly had the best linemates. He has more than enough skill to repeat his best season. One of Meier’s biggest strengths is his shot. He can shoot from just about anywhere and generate a decent scoring chance. He never gives up on the puck, which is how he scores many of his goals. Much like Hyman, Meier has played a net-front presence position on San Jose’s powerplay. He can provide a screen in front of the goalie, redirect the puck, and bang in any rebound.
In my eyes, Timo Meier is the perfect replacement for Hyman. He brings many of the aspects that Hyman does, while also having a powerful, accurate shot. Ideally and realistically, he is the best possible option for the Toronto Maple Leafs right now.
The Nashville Predators have struggled since winning the 2018 Presidents’ Trophy. This year, they just barely made the playoffs over the Dallas Stars, and lost in the quarterfinals to the Carolina Hurricanes. Before making a playoff push, Nashville indicated that many of their players would be available for trade. The recent Ryan Ellis and Viktor Arvidsson trades suggest they may be going in the same direction. This makes Filip Forsberg an obvious trade candidate.
For the last 6 seasons, Forsberg’s point pace has been consistent. He hasn’t played a full season since 2016-17 but has maintained a 60+ point pace every season. This past season, he had a WAR of 0.3. If surrounded by elite talent, Forsberg could blossom into a 70-80 point player, considering his point totals thus far with the Predators. The way he plays is reminiscent of Timo Meier, but not identical. Similar to Meier, Forsberg can shoot the puck. He is capable of being a net-front presence on the power play, however, he is more skilled in a one-time position at the top of the circles.
The John Tavares line would most likely be the best fit for Filip Forsberg. He could complement their play style in a similar way that Alex Galchenyuk did this past season. As for special teams, Forsberg could play a similar position on the second power-play that Auston Matthews does.
This may not be a very realistic option, but Patrik Laine would be a decent fit in Toronto. Laine spent the 2021 NHL season with the Columbus Blue Jackets, scoring 10 goals for 21 points in 45 games. He did play one game with the Winnipeg Jets prior to being traded, where he had 3 points. Laine has struggled since the 2018-19 season, but he’s never really been given the opportunity to get his game back. In the last 3 seasons, he’s averaged about 17:00 TOI/G. If he were to join the Maple Leafs, his ice time would likely increase on one of the top two lines, with some additional time on the power play.
It is no secret that Laine is a textbook goal-scoring winger. In every NHL season he’s played (with the exception of 2019-20), he’s scored more goals than assists. Luckily, the Maple Leafs have no shortage of playmakers that would suit this style of play.
Laine is a special player. He still has more than enough potential to become the 40 goal scorer he once was. In Winnipeg, there was no shortage of talent surrounding Laine in the top 6. Toronto could provide the help he needs to reach his full potential. Additionally, Laine would be a great piece on the Maple Leafs’ power play that struggled mightily last season.
All of these players are more than capable of filling Hyman’s shoes and then some. It’ll come down to who’s available, who the Maple Leafs can afford, and who Kyle Dubas believes is best suited for his roster.