For all the success the Toronto Maple Leafs rookie forward group had this season, with Auston Matthews immediately becoming #1 center, Mitch Marner proving his size doesn’t change the fact that he’s a wizard with the puck, and William Nylander coming into his own as a possession-driving forward, their was still (at least) one thing wrong with the team. Their defense, even with the addition of 25-year old rookie Nikita Zaitsev, were often criticized for giving up leads and looking lost in their own end.
So they entered this season with a clear direction: add depth on defense. Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner and Zaitsev gave them three reliable options—ones that are now all locked up for next season—but they needed to fix the bottom pair if nothing else. Matt Hunwick and Roman Polak are both free agents, and though at times held their own were generally a weakness on the team.
When Mike Babcock finished the season, he immediately said he’d be heading to the World Championships to watch a few players, and this week told Darren Dreger that the team would soon be announcing a few European signings. It seems like those will include at least two Swedish defenders, namely Calle Rosen and Philip Holm. Rosen was linked to the Maple Leafs last month, while yesterday a report surfaced from a Swedish source that said Holm was also committed to the Maple Leafs.
Rosen and Holm both played this season for Vaxjo of the SHL, and are even usual partners there. Both shoot from the left-side, and have a common ability to skate the puck out of traffic and move it with crisp passes. During the year Holm, the elder of the two at 25, recorded 21 points while Rosen notched 19 in 11 fewer games.
With Holm getting into his first two matches at the World Championships for Sweden, Babcock likely has seen him up close. His three point effort against the Italians today would certainly impress, as he keeps up with the other outstanding defenders on Sweden.
Though nothing has been officially announced just yet, Rosen and Holm would definitely add a new wrinkle to the Maple Leafs defense group next season, and perhaps even get another chance to play together under the bright lights of professional hockey. While Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello said recently that there is one player in particular in the minors that they’d like to take a look at, these Swedish defenders may block any prospect from making the jump just yet.