NHL Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs: Jake Gardiner Deserves Roster Spot Next Season

Tom Szczerbowski – USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Maple Leafs have made the first step in turning their franchise around, as they reached the playoffs this season. As they try and continue their forward progress, bringing back some of their top young talent will be key. The Maple Leafs have a lot of work to do this offseason when it comes to defense, as five of the eight blueliners that finished the season with the team are free agents. One player they don’t have to worry about re-signing is Jake Gardiner, who has one year left on his entry-level deal and was impressive for the team during the season and even more in the playoffs.

Gardiner played in 75 games for the Maple Leafs during the 2011-12 season, and chipped in seven goals and 30 points. The lockout forced him to start the 2012-13 season in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies, where he had 10 goals and 31 points in 43 games. He wasn’t able to crack the Maple Leafs’ lineup much after that, and only appeared in 12 games. He stepped his game up in the playoffs, and was one of the team’s leading producers with a goal and five points. With five free agents, it will be hard for the Maple Leafs to bring everyone back and Gardiner has definitely shown that he deserves a spot.

Mike Kostka, Ryan O’Byrne, Cody Franson and Carl Gunnarsson are also in line for new deals, and while each of those players has made a contribution, Gardiner is the youngest player with the most future potential and he will play a big part in helping the Maple Leafs return to the postseason.

Jonathan Katje is an NHL senior writer for Rant Sports. You can follow him on Twitter or add him to your circles on Google Plus.