New Maple Leafs General Manager Brad Treliving has had quite the start to his tenure in Toronto. With the popular additions of Tyler Bertuzzi, Max Domi, and Ryan Reaves, it’s safe to say many fans are excited for what’s to come in 2023-24. However, there’s one addition, in particular, I don’t think is getting enough buzz, and although it is definitely a gamble, it could be a significant signing for this franchise moving forward.
The addition of right-handed defenseman John Klingberg certainly isn’t getting the recognition I believe it should. Now as someone who’s watched John Klingberg a good amount over the years, I’ll be the first to say he is a liability in his own end, but the offensive upside in his game is just so unique, it’s a gamble I’m interested in taking.
After last year’s postseason run, I wanted this Maple Leafs team to add stronger puck movers on the back end, and newly signed defenseman John Klingberg certainly helps with that. More known for his offensive ability, John Klingberg can effectively hit passes on breakouts and hold onto the puck when needed. Although his mobility isn’t what it once was a few seasons ago in Dallas, John Klingberg still has the skill set to skate the puck out of danger.
A clear-cut positive from the signing of John Klingberg is his power-play ability. As much as Morgan Rielly means to that number-one unit, sometimes, during the regular season, it could get stale. John Klingberg can fix that, finally giving the Maple Leafs a top-tier power-play quarterback who can play on both units. Using JFresh’s model John Klingberg ranks in the ninety-first percentile on the power play, one of the highest amongst defensemen at the National Hockey League level.
I’ve been pretty critical of Sheldon Keefe in the past, but one thing I’ll give him credit for is his ability to get better defensive results out of certain individuals. With John Klingberg being so reliant on his abilities in the offensive zone, Sheldon Keefe might be the perfect coach to finally find that mix for the 30-year-old defenseman.
Just to give you a perspective using analytics on John Klingberg, per JFresh’s model, the offensive defenseman ranks in the zero percentile for even-strength defense, yes, zero. However, as we’ve seen before, sometimes putting a highly skilled defenseman such as John Klingberg with a more defense-oriented partner could spark amazing results. It’s just an idea, but Leafs defenseman T.J. Brodie who ranks in the one-hundredth percentile in even-strength defense, the exact opposite for JFresh’s model, would be a fun partner for John Klingberg.
One thing I’ll also add about John Klingberg is that I think there is untapped potential in his game. Despite the dramatic drop off from his offensive skill set to his defensive game, using his large frame and mobility, I think in a more defensive system that Toronto plays with, we could see better results. Like most offensive defensemen, making plays in the offensive zone comes with a risk, especially when you get creative. Pushing for more offense leaves you vulnerable, but now working under Sheldon Keefe, this could allow John to finally find that blend.
The easy fix, as I said, would likely be to pair him with a defensive-oriented partner, but I’m optimistic that on a one-year deal working under Sheldon’s system, we could see a different John Klingberg. As I mentioned before, this isn’t the first time a team’s had this idea of developing John Klingberg’s two-way play, but given Sheldon Keefe’s results in his time with Toronto, I’m inclined to take the gamble on John Klingberg. If the Maple Leafs coaching staff can get even a little bit of an improvement out of John Klingberg, this can be a significant addition.
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