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Leafs appear to be hurting the development of one young player by limiting his ice time

Published February 19, 2024 at 2:06 PM
BY DEAN CHAUDHRY

When Timothy Liljegren was drafted in the middle of round one by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2017, it was seen as a steal with the Swedish defenseman being the 6th ranked European skater and, at one point, a projected top-5 pick. He dealt with a bout of mononucleosis and that seemed to have affected his draft stock. He also moved around a lot in his draft year, which caused his stock to plummet. Nevertheless, it worked out like gangbusters for the Maple Leafs, who believed they secured their top-pairing defenseman for the future on the right side.

It's been an up-and-down tenure for the 24-year-old right-shot defenseman. He has shown flashes of brilliance, but it also seems that, at times, the coaching staff doesn't fully trust him to take on a larger role.

When Liljegren plays over 20 minutes a night, his scoring catapults him into a much higher tier, production-wise. During the 2022-23 season, he averaged over 20 minutes of ice-time in 19 games and tallied 3 goals and 8 assists. This season, he has seen 15 games with extended ice-time and has tallied 9 assists along the way. It's a small sample, however that's 0.588 points per game, which would have him at a 48-point pace in an 82-game season.

Conversely when he plays less than 20 minutes a night, he tallied only 7 points in 48 games in 2022-23 and just 5 points in 21 games this season for a paltry 0.174 points per game. In a full 82-game season, that would leave him at just 14 points, a far cry from his true potential.


With Morgan Rielly serving his 5-game suspension, Liljegren has been thrust into a top-pair role alongside T.J. Brodie and it should come as no surprise that he has tallied 5 assists in his last 2 games. He played 18:48 against the St. Louis Blues, then a season-high 24:27 against the Philadelphia Flyers, before seeing 22:24 of ice-time against Anaheim on Saturday.

He had seen over 20 minutes of ice-time just once prior to Rielly's suspension in a span of 9 games. He had no points, was a plus-2, and had just 11 shots on goal in 17:28 ATOI.

The Maple Leafs are desperate for Liljegren to take that much needed leap into being at least a staple in the top-4. Alongside Rielly, Brodie, and Jake McCabe, Liljegren should be seeing way more ice-time. I'm not sure if it's an issue between Liljegren and Sheldon Keefe or if it's just Keefe reacting to what he's seeing from Liljegren on a game-to-game basis, but when the Leafs are at a full compliment of players, it seems like Liljegren is often getting the short end of the stick, which is never good for a young and developing defenseman.

Hopefully Liljegren can continue to take advantage of the added ice-time and that the coaching staff notices the improvements as they march towards their upcoming playoff push.

POLL
February 19   |   793 answers
Leafs appear to be hurting the development of one young player by limiting his ice time

Does Timothy Liljegren belong in the Leafs' top-4 on a consistent basis?

Yes, definitely33141.7 %
No, he doesn't deserve it yet20926.4 %
I'm cool with adjusting on a game-to-game basis25331.9 %
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