Prior to the 2016-17 season, Liljegren was nothing but a pipe dream. He was the defenceman some Toronto fans even suggested tanking the season for. Instead, he fell right into their lap at 17th overall.
Toronto Maple Leafs Roster Preview, 50-in-50: Timothy Liljegren
Timothy Liljegren’s draft year did not unfold as he intended it to. Entering the season as the top ranked European skater by Central Scouting and second overall, it seemed as if the sky was the limit. Unfortunately, that is not how the season played out.
Rogle BK, Liljegren’s SHL team, put together a miserable 2016-17 season. The team thoroughly underwhelmed, finishing second last in the SHL with a dismal record of 16-36. Playing on a bottom–feeding Swedish team is not exactly a recipe for developmental success, especially when recognizing that Liljegren was a 17-year-old lining up against men twice his age on a nightly basis.
Rogle’s lack of success was far from the largest hurdle Liljegren scaled last year. As his season began, Liljegen was diagnosed with a serious case of mononucleosis.
For those who are unaware, mono is an illness that wreaks havoc on the body’s immune system, sapping it of any and all energy. Essentially, it happens to be one of the worst possible illnesses for an athlete to contract in the middle of a crucial developmental year.
One symptom of mono is it causes the throat to swell to the point where solid food is not an option. Being unable to eat solid food is not exactly conducive to a professional athlete’s conditioning. It makes it especially difficult to build muscle mass, something Liljegren still needed to do even prior to his bout with mono.
Unsurprisingly, Liljegren’s mono limited him to just nineteen games in 2016-17, in which he put up five points. This lead to his plummet down Central Scouting’s draft rankings. The criticism behind Liljegren’s fall was that he failed in taking that “next step”, relative to those in his draft class.
It seems as if taking that “next step” would be difficult when dealing with an illness that renders the body unable to eat solid food, in turn robbing the athlete of all their energy. Couple that along with being a 17-year-old defenceman matching up against full grown men, on a basement dwelling team no less, and what do you get? A prime opportunity to be the steal of the draft.
Profile (via EliteProspects)
Weight: 191 lbs
NHL Entry Draft: First round, 17th overall in 2017 by Toronto
Contract (via CapFriendly)
Impressed with Timothy Liljegren’s performance at the July rookie development camp, the Maple Leafs’ brass wasted no time in inking him to a three-year entry level contract. The said contract happens to include a multitude of important factors.
Liljegren’s cap hit comes out to $925,000, taking up only 1.24% of the Leafs total salary cap if he were to be on the roster. As he is a first round pick, there exists the possibility of earning performance bonuses. If Liljegren happens to hit all of his contract’s performance bonuses, an additional $400,000 will be added to his cap hit. His cap hit would then rise to $1.325 million, were that to occur.
To compare, Auston Matthews hit all his performance bonuses in 2016-17, adding an additional $2.85 million to his cap hit. With the Leafs already shackled with a bonus overage of $5 million thanks to their trio of rookies, keeping Liljegren’s bonuses manageable was vital in contract negotiations.
The Leafs executed salary cap wizardry with Liljegren’s contract. Were he to have been a top five pick, as was projected, his contract undoubtedly would possess a bonus structure similar to that of Mitch Marner’s or William Nylander’s. Both structures are at least double the amount of Liljegren’s.
Instead, the Leafs saw a consensus top five talent drop to the middle of the round and snatched him up. The team then signed him to an ELC with a performance bonus structure befitting for a mid-first round pick, right where they were able to select him. Were Liljegren to reach his true potential, Toronto would then possess an elite right-hand defenceman counting less than $2 million against the cap. Perfection.
It was initially expected for Liljegren to return to Rogle BK for the 2017-18 season. However, that no longer seems to be the case. When speaking at to the media at rookie camp, Lou Lamoriello and Mark Hunter both stated that Liljegren would spend the upcoming season “either in Sweden or on the Marlies”. For the notoriously tight–lipped Leafs management to voluntarily raise the possibility of Liljegren spending next season in the AHL is worth noting.
Could He Be Leafs Bound?
Though unlikely, it is not outside of the realm of possibility for Liljegren to make the Leafs roster this season. After all, he will miss the beginning of the SHL season to attend Toronto’s training camp this September.
Furthermore, he recently got a haircut. Normally that is not news, however, with Lamoriello’s well-documented ban on long hair, it certainly suggests that Liljegren could be far closer to the Leafs organization than previously thought. If he were intending on spending 2017-18 all the way over in Sweden, why would he feel the need to conform to team policy?
Liljegren happens to be a right shot defenceman, which is a positional need for the Leafs. While defencemen rarely crack the NHL in their first year, especially as a mid-first round pick, it is not out of the question. Just last season, Jakob Chychrun of the Arizona Coyotes, the 16th overall pick in 2016, made the jump to the NHL immediately from the OHL.
The Leafs have shown a willingness to challenge prospects with NHL roles early on as well. Liljegren could open some eyes by having a strong training camp. If a Leafs defensive prospect makes a strong case for themselves, it is entirely possible that Liljegren could be NHL bound.
The most likely scenario is that Liljegren will play on the Marlies in 2017-18, learning the nuances of North American ice. Yet, with such immense potential, nothing is impossible. You only need to look at how the Leafs got him to see that.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images