If there is one younger forward on the Toronto Maple Leafs roster that has a tough road ahead of him, it’s Kerby Rychel. Despite being a former first round selection, Rychel has not been able to realize his potential to this point in his career. And unless he has a fantastic camp and preseason, it is going to be very difficult for him to break the Leafs roster.
Toronto Maple Leafs Roster Preview, 50-in-50: Kerby Rychel
Rychel was originally drafted 19th overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. His good sized frame and physical play style made him a promising prospect. Despite this, he was never able to consistently crack the Jackets roster.
To showcase the lost faith in Rychel, the Jackets sent him to Toronto for Scott Harrington and a conditional fifth round pick. Harrington has been used sparingly in the seventh defenseman role since arriving in Columbus. Valuing a seventh/eighth defenseman over a prospect isn’t usually a good sign.
This shouldn’t, however, be taken as a be all-end all for Rychel. At the time of the trade Columbus had plenty of forward prospects, and not much for immediate depth at defenseman, outside of the top three pairings.
Small Sample Sizes
In the relatively small sample sizes that Rychel has seen NHL ice, he has done fairly well in a bottom six role. Seeing as he is fighting for a bottom six role in Toronto, this bodes well for him.
He made his NHL debut during the 2014-15 season, and played in a total of five games that season. During that time he had three assists. He spent the vast majority of the season with the Jackets AHL-affiliate at the time, the Springfield Falcons. In 51 games for the Falcons he had 12 goals and 21 assists.
Rychel did get a bigger shot at NHL time during the 2015-16 season, making good on that opportunity. In 32 games for the Jackets he had two goals and seven assists. Not great numbers, but this was on a basement dwelling Columbus team with little support for him.
If Rychel can capitalize on having a strong supporting case of forwards around him in Toronto during the preseason, he may just have a chance at cracking the bottom six for periods of the 2017-18 season.
Rychel is currently heading into the final season of his entry-level contract. He will make just over $1.2 million this season, but only carries a cap hit of $863,333. This also carries a minors salary of $70,000.
As stated multiple times throughout the article, Rychel is going to have to perform well above expectations to make the Leafs roster out of camp and preseason. Players like Nikita Soshnikov and Kasperi Kapanen look to be ahead of him on the depth chart.
If Soshnikov and Kapanen both get sent down, and Rychel does well, there is a good chance he could get time with the Leafs. The two more likely options are that Rychel plays another season with the Toronto Marlies or is possibly even traded at some point before the trade deadline.