Heading into the 2016-17 season, the Toronto Maple Leafs had two options: tank for blue chip defensive prospect Timothy Liljegren, or put faith in the kids and take a shot at the playoffs.
Fast forward to the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, and the Toronto Maple Leafs made the playoffs and have their blue chip blueliner.
Toronto Maple Leafs Find Their Blue Chip Blueliner in Timothy Liljegren
It was a tough draft year for Timothy Liljegren. He was diagnosed with mononucleosis back in September of 2016, prior to the start of the Swedish Hockey League season. The draining illness took a toll on the young Swede. He lost nine pounds in a six-week period before attempting to return to the lineup early. The decision cost him. Already at a disadvantage playing in a premier men’s league at 18, he was a noticeable step behind upon return.
After playing 19 games in the SHL, Liljegren was sent on loan to Timra IK of the Allsvenskan. He ended up splitting time between the Allsvenskan and Rogle BK J20 of the SuperElit.
In November, Liljegren was still the consensus number two pick, behind Brandon Wheat King Nolan Patrick. By the end of the year, he was ranked as low as 16.
Five defencemen went ahead of Liljegren in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. The preseason number two fell all the way to the Toronto Maple Leafs at 17. It was such an easy selection that Leafs Assistant General Manager Mark Hunter said: “When he fell that far, it was a no-brainer.”
Addressing the Area of Concern
Even before drafting Mitch Marner fourth overall in 2015, the concern with the Leafs stellar prospect pool was the lack of a blue chip blueliner. Travis Dermott and Andrew Nielsen have emerged as solid pieces, but the Leafs were still lacking that potential number one defender. Everyone knew about the offensive success that we saw in the 2016-17 NHL season, but the defence was lacking.
The Maple Leafs acquired that potential talent with the 17th overall selection in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. Liljegren, although a risk, is a player that could blossom into a future top pairing partner for Morgan Rielly. The question is, how much will his disappointing draft year affect him heading into the future?
Liljegren is scheduled to return to the SHL next year. If he signs an entry level deal, he could join the Toronto Marlies, though unlikely. His Draft +1 campaign should be very telling as to whether he is the top two prospect discussed in the summer of 2016, or if he is the mid first rounder he ended up as or worse.
For an in-depth scouting report on the newest Toronto Maple Leaf, check out the draft profile written by our very own Ben Kerr.