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Rick Zamperin: five Maple Leafs to watch as training camp begins

Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Nicholas Robertson (89) celebrates his first NHL goal with teammates during second period NHL Eastern Conference Stanley Cup playoff action against the Columbus Blue Jackets, in Toronto, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

The Toronto Maple Leafs hit the ice for the first time in 2021 on Monday as they prepare for the start of the NHL season in nine days time.

40 players (23 forwards, 13 defencemen, four goalies) arrived at the Ford Performance Centre in Toronto on Sunday about five months after the Leafs’ 2019-20 campaign ended in the NHL’s summer bubble with a best-of-five play-in series loss against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Toronto will play in the all-Canadian North Division during this year’s 56-game season along with Ottawa, Montreal, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, with the top four teams making the playoffs.

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There are a number of new faces in blue and white such as Joe Thornton, T.J. Brodie, Wayne Simmonds and Zach Bogosian, as well as mainstays like captain John Tavares, forwards Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, defenceman Morgan Rielly and goalie Frederik Andersen.

Read more: Rick Zamperin: Hockey fans receive an early Christmas gift from the NHL

Here is a look at the five Maple Leafs to watch during training camp.

5-Nick Robertson. The 19-year-old forward was left off the United States’ World Junior Hockey Championship roster due to the timing of NHL training camps. He scored his first NHL goal during the play-in series against Columbus last summer and will battle for a spot on the fourth line. However, that’s probably not the place where the Leafs want to develop their top prospect.

Click to play video: 'Toronto Maple Leafs player Mitch Marner on playing in the NHL bubble' Toronto Maple Leafs player Mitch Marner on playing in the NHL bubble
Toronto Maple Leafs player Mitch Marner on playing in the NHL bubble – Oct 20, 2020

4-Morgan Rielly. Rielly is entering his eighth season with the Leafs and will be counted upon to return to the production level that he displayed during the 2018-19 season in which he amassed 20 goals and 72 points in 82 games. The 26-year-old had a down year by his standards last season, with just 27 points in 47 games.

Read more: Rick Zamperin: Ranking the NHL’s Canadian division

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3-T.J. Brodie. After a decade with the Calgary Flames, Brodie signed a four-year contract with Toronto worth $20 million. The native of Chatham, Ont., isn’t going to wow Leafs fans with offence, but will instead be asked to be a stabilizing force alongside Rielly.

2-Joe Thornton. Head coach Sheldon Keefe told reporters on Sunday that ‘Jumbo Joe’ will start at left wing on Toronto’s top line with center Auston Matthews and winger Mitch Marner. Thornton is 41-years-old — nearly double that of his two linemates — and will be tasked with setting up one of the league’s deadliest snipers at even-strength and on the power-play.

Click to play video: 'Hope for Vancouver Canucks to play home games when the NHL season starts' Hope for Vancouver Canucks to play home games when the NHL season starts
Hope for Vancouver Canucks to play home games when the NHL season starts – Jan 1, 2021

1-Frederik Andersen. ‘The Great Dane’ is coming off the worst of his four seasons in Toronto and is entering his contract year. At 31, this season will go a long way to determining how big Andersen’s next (and perhaps final) NHL contract will be, but more importantly for the Leafs, they will only go as far as he takes them.

Rick ZamperinΒ is the assistant program, news and senior sports director at Global News Radio 900 CHML.

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