Four candidates for a potential breakout season in Toronto in 2023-24
BY MIKE ARMENTI JULY 21, 2023 (11:59)
Last season, we saw Calle Jarnkrok pot a career-high 20 goals and 39 points. While those numbers don't necessarily scream flashy or impressive, a player posting new career highs is certainly noteworthy and speaks to the Leafs' star players' ability to elevate the games of the players around them. In terms of actual breakout performances, William Nylander's 87-point season is certainly noteworthy, as was Timothy Liljegren's 30-point season, nearly doubling his previous career best from the year prior. This year, there are a number of potential breakout candidates, so we'll just start with the two obvious ones and work our way down from there.
The newly-signed Tyler Bertuzzi is expected to see significant time in the top-six in Toronto, playing with better players than he has every played with during his career to date. No matter which way you slice it, he'll be playing with two of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander. I don't know about labelling him for 30 goals, but I certainly like his chances of surpassing his career best 62 points from 2021-22.
Max Domi is the other beneficiary of some substantial time in the top six with the Core 4. His previous career best season came in 2018-19 while a member of the Montreal Canadiens. Domi notched 28 goals that year playing with players well below the skill cap of Marner, Matthews, Nylander and Tavares. While I don't think 28 goals is a smart bet for Domi this season, if he can stick in the top six in Toronto, I do like his chances of besting his 72-point season in 2018-19.
If Domi doesn't get a lot of minutes in the top six this season, it will be because of he emergence of rookie sensation Matthew Knies, who shocked almost everyone in Leafs Nation with his performance in the final 3 games of the regular season and throughout the playoffs before he suffered a series-ending injury against Florida, following an altercation with Sam Bennett, which left the rookie with a concussion and ruled out for the rest of the series.
Knies brings a unique blend of size, speed, physicality, soft hands and shooting ability. If Knies jumps anyone on the depth chart and winds up in the Leafs' top six, look out.
My dark horse here is Nicholas Robertson. Robertson has had a number of kicks at the can with the big club ruined by unfortunate injuries, which saw him return at the AHL level following his recovery. If he can remain healthy this season and utilize his NHL-caliber shot and relentless engine the right way, I think he has 30-goal potential. I really do.
Of course, Robertson may not start the season in the NHL, which is why I'm listing him as a dark horse here. If he does start in the NHL, however, and if he can capitalize on his chances early and often and work his way into a consistent top six role, this could finally be the year where we see all that potential pay off for the soon-to-be 22-year-old.