Wait, wait, isn’t that an article by Matthew Knies or Rasmus Sandin? Yes, it might come as a surprise that the young, hard-hitting two-sided defenseman signed to a cheap multi-year contract, also known as Timothy Winston Liljegren, ranks fourth in our Top 25 Under-25s for the Maple Leafs. of Toronto. So let’s see what the problem is. If there is a problem.
To quickly sum up Liljegren’s career to date, he was drafted 17th overall by the Leafs in 2017 and joined the Marlies immediately the following season. In his first two years in the AHL, Liljegren scored four goals and had 32 points in 87 career games. His next two seasons saw him spend time with the Leafs, first 11 games in 2019-20, then just two games in 2020-21, before finally playing the full season with the Leafs last year, scoring five goals and 23 points in 61 games.
By the way, it’s interesting to look back at the 2017 draft. The streak of defenders before the Leafs took on Liljegren consisted of Cal Foote, Erik Brännström and Juuso Valimaki. All three players are struggling to get even third pair minutes. Meanwhile, the attackers who went were Josh Norris, Robert Thomas, Filip Chytil and Kailer Yamamoto. A row of assassins, to say the least.
As for Liljegren, many expect him to enter the Leafs top four and at least succeed Justin Holl, who is in the final year of his contract. His rookie season was very promising, as he excelled in the use of the third pair and got extended opportunities in the first four (~16 games split between Rielly and Muzzin).
In matches alongside Jake Muzzin, Liljegren seemed to be having a nice, consistent time. They played over water on a very weak event match. The same couldn’t be said for his time with Rielly, as the team’s offense soared, but goals against also increased. Looking at these matches, it seemed pretty clear that Liljegren was getting lost in d-zone coverage, while on the other side, Rielly was also getting lost in d-zone coverage. Neither were supporting each other and plenty of open opportunities presented themselves.
It would be amazing for the Leafs if Rielly-Liljegren could work, as it would open up a lot of possibilities in the lineup. I’m also sure the Leafs will try a little harder because what Liljegren has done in the AHL meshes well with what Rielly needs in the NHL. But for now, I don’t think the young defender is ready yet. Or not at all if part of his problem is a lack of quickness on his feet.
I find it interesting that Liljegren and Travis Dermott had similar issues in the defensive zone as they tried to get past third pair, but they were having issues for completely different reasons. For Dermott, he was slow to make reads, then overcompensated with big moves and aggression, leaving him open on the weak side. For Liljegren, he’s slow on his reads and doesn’t have enough quickness to get into this position in the first place. For Dermott, he looked wildly out of place in the defensive zone and was caught expanding on numerous goals against. For Liljegren, he’s quietly standing there after missing the puck, but you wouldn’t know that if you were just paying attention to where the TV cameras are sending their close-ups.
One thing that Liljegren (and Dermott) does really well is make defensive plays in transition. His readings on the open ice are excellent and highly practiced in the AHL. As you can see in this highlight. This Twitter search query is an excellent database of attacking and defensive plays made by Liljegren last season. Omar, you are and always will be a legend.
For this coming season, I think it’s really interesting that Liljegren will probably see some time with all the LD the Leafs have. From Rielly and Muzzin, to Giordano and Sandin. I expect him to excel with the bottom two, and I expect progression in his time with the top four. I don’t think we can expect Liljegren to play like Brodie (a top five defensive back in the league) or Muzzin (a consistent, positive presence for most of his time with the Leafs), but creating an offensively suited pair that can come back well and defend when needed can open up much better pairings in the lineup (Muzzin/Sandin-Brodie, Giordano-Holl) and give the Leafs much better depth.
|Josh – Smaht Scouting||4|
|The decline and fall of Roman Polak||2|
|Distribution of votes||2|
I will reaffirm my votes and say that I think all the players I have ranked ahead of Liljegren are better than him. Sandin is a better player with a better toolbox and skills to use them. Same for Matthew Knies and the other guy. Where I think Liljegren has the upper hand for a lot of people comes down to his position, the positive leverage you can get from the skills he has, and now his contract.
Liljegren won’t wear a pair like Sandin can and will. He relied on Muzzin defensively and Rielly offensively. Offense with Muzzin and defense with Rielly are both going down the toilet because Liljegren can’t balance out either way enough to make much of a difference. He can just be there and be fine.
His defending in the zone, as Katya discusses below and has been talking about for a while, is a serious issue. Not only will Liljegren need to be faster, he’ll need to acclimate to the NHL faster. I know it’s probably hard to put in a rookie who’s now in his second year, but those are the Leafs requirements or they’ll have to go get another guy. By the way, that’s a problem Sandin is facing right now, and that’s why he and Liljegren were eliminated in the playoffs.
Do I think Liljegren can shore up these weak spots in his game enough not to worry about them every shift? I hope so, and his off-season training videos are encouraging for that, but every player has a ceiling.
dhammm: A nice guy. It’s always gratifying when a prospect everyone gave up on NHL breakthroughs and dunks on doubters, and that’s what Liljegren did. Not much to say here: he seems to arrive as a solid top 4 defender.
Brigstew: I think two things are true. First, Liljegren finally showed he can be a useful defenseman in the NHL and was one of the most surprising stories for the Leafs last year. Second, people overestimate how good he was in the NHL. I feel like very few people have learned their lessons from the Travis Dermott saga here in Toronto. Liljegren will need to show he can be better in the tougher minutes to retain a bigger role and not get pushed around by Justin Holl or any equivalent player the Leafs are trading for at the deadline of their playoff push. .
TomK421: *insert ‘happyDende.gif’ here*
Katia: I was never a big Liljegren fan, and I think a lot of his NHL game was seen in shades of pink. Micah McCurdy said one thing about hockey that I thought about recently, how smart players know when to get rid of the puck quickly (which was effectively implied) and therefore you notice them less. And I’m going to take that on board with Liljegren and think about it more. He moves the puck well and sees play well in the neutral zone. He’s got a brain under that hair.
Here is the but. But he doesn’t defend – in the narrowest possible construction of the word – well at all. It is sometimes horrible around the net. He is slow on his skates, he thinks faster at the front than at the back. He will get marked. The question now isn’t a good/bad binary it’s one of this mix of skills and deficits and how they end up in terms of real value not just what neato xG he gets from careful use of the introduction of Keefe’s recruits.
Who will be Timothy Liljegren’s most common partner next season?
Jordie Benn or someone else
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