The Toronto Maple Leafs had a season to remember in 2013. Simply making the playoffs was something that should be considered a victory for the embattled organization, but the fact that they managed to establish themselves as a real playoff threat in the Eastern Conference bodes well for the future.
One player that would help to take the Maple Leafs to that next level is Jake Gardiner. The shortened season wasn’t always the kindest to Gardiner, with his agent taking to Twitter at one point to try and get him out of Toronto, but it ended on a very high note for the defenseman.
Gardiner has another year on his entry-level contract, and could be in store for a career year next season. After appearing in 75 games with the Leafs last season, Gardiner was only able to make into the lineup for a dozen tilts during the 2013 season. He finished the year with only four points.
But the positive news for Gardiner is that the end of the season brought about some positives that he hadn’t been able to find spending most of the year in the AHL. Five of his 12 games in which he appeared came at the end of the season, before he served as a healthy scratch for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
That first game might be the last time we see Gardiner as a healthy scratch. He had a fantastic series against the Boston Bruins. He finished the six games of the series in which he appeared with five points, playing the physical game with 13 hits over that span as well. Two of his points came with the Leafs on the power play.
Gardiner has the potential to be an excellent two-way defenseman for this club. He has the puckhandling ability and the size to make him a dual threat from the blue line. Having used the playoffs to establish himself, he should see an increased role next season and, subsequently, a breakout year.