Young Leafs defenseman really beginning to come into his own
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One Leafs defenseman giving the Leafs far more than their money's worth

Published January 2, 2024 at 10:29

If you've followed the Leafs this season with any sort of consistency, you'll know just how tough it's been for the organization this years, especially on the blueline. Coming into the season, the Leafs were expected to have a D corps laden with talent, containing a good mixture of skill, grit and defensive acumen. A group that consisted of Morgan Rielly, T.J. Brodie, Jake McCabe, John Klingberg, Mark Giordano, Timothy Liljegren, Conor Timmins, Simon Benoit, William Lagesson and Max Lajoie gave the Leafs a deep D corps with a lot of different potential looks. However, when the injury bug bit, it bit hard.

The first one to drop was Conor Timmins, who was having a tremendous pre-season with 6 points in 3 games before suffering a lower-body injury, which would keep him out for the better part of 2 months. Jake McCabe, John Klingberg and Timothy Liljegren also missed time, but when Klingberg was ruled out for the remainder of the season and Mark Giordano broke his finger, missing a month of action, it thrust guys like Benoit, Lagesson and Lajoie into regular roles for the team. Not ideal, but the Leafs were not only able to tread water, but win some important games as well.

Now, aside from Klingberg, the Leafs' blueline is healthy. Max Lajoie has been sent back to the AHL's Toronto Marlies and William Lagesson and Conor Timmins have settled into their roles as the #8 and #7 defensemen, respectively, which has left the Leafs' top 6 defenders as Rielly, Brodie, McCabe, Benoit, Giordano, Liljegren. Each of these players has been valuable to the team in his own way, but the latter, Liljegren, has really come into his own over the last two weeks after missing approximately 6 weeks with a high-ankle sprain.

Over the last 14 days, Liljegren has amassed 5 points (1G, 4A), is a +1 rating, has factored in on special teams, notching both 1 power play point and 1 shorthanded point, has registered 8 shots on goal, 9 hits and 17 blocked shots. In short, Liljegren has been a beast.

When measured up against the team's top defenseman, Morgan Rielly, Liljegren has arguably been the better player over that same stretch. Rielly has produced 6 assists, but is a -5 over the last two weeks. He has 3 powerplay points and 13 shots on goal, but just 4 hits and 9 shot blocks in a whole lot more ice time, albeit against tougher competition.

Liljegren's play is a part of the reason why GM Brad Treliving has been able to be patient in his pursuit of an upgrade on the blueline. Of course, players like Benoit and Lagesson factor in as well, as both players have been punching up in a big way this season, but for Liljegren to have taken the kind of step that he has since coming back has no doubt given Treliving some breathing room.

Liljegren is a pending RFA, playing in the final year of a 2-year deal, which pays him just $1.4M per season. If I was Treliving, I'd probably try to ink this kid to a lengthy extension before his value continues to rise, because with the trajectory he's been on over the last couple of weeks, his ask is probably going up with every passing game.

Time will tell if he can keep this up or even continue to make strides in all areas, but for the time being, Liljegren has not only been solid for the Leafs since his return - he's been a breath of fresh air.
January 2   |   575 answers
One Leafs defenseman giving the Leafs far more than their money's worth

Will Timothy Liljegren sign an extension during the season or will he wait until the summer to negotiate a new deal?

He'll sign in season19033 %
He'll wait until the summer38567 %
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