5 Toronto Maple Leafs Players Who Must Step Up During 2013-14 Season
Toronto Maple Leafs: 5 Players That Need to Have Big Seasons
The Toronto Maple Leafs are looking to improve on their first round playoff exit of last season, and prove that they are still a playoff contender coming into the 2013-14 NHL season. Making the playoffs last season was something that Maple Leafs fans hadn't experienced in seven seasons, a reality that is absolutely unacceptable given the expectations of hockey's most storied franchise. Building on the success of the shortened 2013 campaign, the Leafs may need to rely on a few players to get things going every time the puck is dropped.
The Maple Leafs have not been able to rely on a select few players game in and game out to have those big performances that can win games over the past few seasons. With the changes and additions made over this past offseason, the Maple Leafs now have what looks to be a relatively dynamic group that is sure to provide some firepower, as long as they learn how to play together and complemement each other on a nighty basis.
With the NHL's realignment and the addition of the Detroit Red Wings in the Eastern Conference, the Maple Leafs will need to stay on their toes in order to stay afloat in the Atlantic Division. The pieces are definitely there, and head coach Randy Carlyle is confident that his team can put up big performances against anyone in the league. In order for this to happen, however, there are a few key components to Toronto's game that must be executed at all costs.
Here are the five Toronto Maple Leafs players that must step up in order for the team to have a big season in 2013-14.
5. Jonathan Bernier
Jonathan Bernier needs to have a massive first season and put an end to the days of having two goalies taking turns as the starter. The reality is that he is much better than his counterpart James Reimer, so there is no reason why he shouldn't start three quarters of this season's games, at the very least. No disrespect to the man they call 'Optimus-Reim,' as he is a good goalie, but, unfortunately, he isn't a great goalie. The Leafs finally have Bernier, who should be able to fill the role as a No. 1 goalie, something the Leafs haven't had for years.
4. David Clarkson
After jumping off the bench to join in on the brawl against division rival Buffalo Sabres last week, David Clarkson has proven that he has the fire in his eyes and is ready to play hard for his new team on a nightly basis. Unfortunately for him and the Leafs, because of the poor decision to leave the bench during the brawl, he will have to wait until Game 11, as he is suspended for the first 10 games of the season. This adds some pressure to Clarkson, who is being paid very well to bring some goal scoring power to a team that has had some trouble putting pucks in the net. He needs to come up big as soon as he gets back in uniform for the Leafs.
3. Nikolai Kulemin
Nikolai Kulemin has proven in the past that he can skate with the best of them. He is fast and very strong on the puck. When Kulemin is hot, there's no telling how much damage he can do to another team's chances of winning. Kulemin needs to put up 30+ goals for the Leafs to make some serious noise this season.
2. Dion Phaneuf
Fresh off a honeymoon with his new wife Elisha Cuthbert, Leaf's captain Dion Phaneuf finds himself back on the ice with his envious teammates (and fans) in Toronto. Phaneuf has the ability to arguably be one of the NHL's best defensemen. When he is on his game and hitting everything in sight, it can be a very intimidating experience for those trying to cross into the Toronto zone when Phaneuf is on the ice. If he plays well, everyone else does. The Maple Leafs need their captain to finally have a career year.
1. Phil Kessel
Maple Leafs' sniper, Phil Kessel, has the ability to be an elite goal scorer in the NHL. He can skate very well and has an unbelievably quick release on his shot that can stun any goalie at any time. When he is hot, so is everyone else. Kessel needs to have a 40+ goal season in order for the Maple Leafs to sit atop the Atlantic Division and have a favorable first round playoff matchup, rather than go up against the likes his former team, the Boston Bruins.