Fraser’s return to the lineup couldn’t have come at a better time after Toronto was embarrassed in a 4-0 loss to the Vancouver Canucks. He’s missed the past 13 games having not played since Oct. 2, and the Leafs could desperately use his toughness on the blue-line.
At first, it appeared Toronto could survive without Fraser in the lineup. The emergence of rookie Morgan Rielly looked as if it filled some of the void left by their big-bodied defenseman. Rielly was practically the exact opposite of Fraser as he’s nowhere near as big or physical as Fraser. However, his strong skating ability and offensive instincts gave the Maple Leafs a different look on the blue-line.
Unfortunately, Toronto didn’t need another offensive defenseman on the roster. What they needed was a physical defenseman who could clear the front of the net and block shots. What they needed through their 10-5 start to the season was Fraser.
With the exception of Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson, the rest of the Maple Leafs’ defensemen are arguably more known for their offensive skills more than their defensive talents. Rielly and Jake Gardiner are virtually the same player at this stage in their careers. Both are great skaters capable of jumping into the rush and making beautiful tape-to-tape passes. The only difference between the two is one started the season with confidence and the other didn’t. Cody Franson is more known for his slap shot on the power-play than anything else. Before returning to the NHL this season, even Paul Ranger was known for ability to put up points as a defenseman.
The only thing Fraser is known for is being extremely physical on the blue-line which is what Toronto has desperately lacked from their defensemen since his injury. It’s great to have strong skaters on defense, but if they are all soft it makes them easy to play against. Toronto needs to be harder to play against in their own zone, and Fraser will make them that every time he’s on the ice. He’s not afraid to sacrifice his body to block shots, and at 6-foot-4 220-pounds he can block a lot of them. He’s also not afraid to put opponents on their behind or drop the gloves when needed.
Fraser is the type of stay-at-home defenseman Toronto’s blue-line has desperately lacked. He won’t single-handily stop the Maple Leafs from being out-shot every game, but he will help out the team’s penalty-kill. He’ll also make it much harder for opponents to get to the front of net or escape the boards with the puck. He’s the perfect example of a player who does all the little things needed to help his team win.
Toronto will be a much harder team to play against and a much better team overall with Fraser in the lineup.