Everyone knows the Toronto Maple Leafs are in the market for defensemen. Last summer, the team reached across the Atlantic and signed Nikita Zaitsev, who quickly became a mainstay in Mike Babcock’s top-4. This summer, it is expected that the Leafs will attempt to make a bigger splash when it comes to acquiring a top-end blueliner. With that said, it shouldn’t be ruled out that the creative front office is exploring all options when it comes to improving defensive depth in the organization.
Then yesterday, while over in Paris watching group B of the IIHF World Champion, the team’s head coach mentioned in an interview that the Leafs are going to add a European player to the organization – one would assume sooner rather than later. A few names have been brought up, but one that I haven’t seen so far is Swiss defender Romain Loeffel.
Loeffel is currently playing for team Switzerland at the World Championships and has been their best defender. He has three points through three games and has been the guy that everything flows through on the powerplay.
Having just turned 26, Loeffel spent last season with Genève-Servette HC of the NHL where he had 10 goals and 26 assists in 50 games. He is a right-shooting defenseman that by all accounts does his best work with the puck on his stick. I don’t watch much NLA hockey, but during the World Championship, he’s looked like a possession monster. He is a very good skater and puck handler – add to that a tremendous shot from the point and Loeffel could be a very productive depth puck mover and powerplay threat for an NHL team.
The knock on Loeffel is that he’s very small. At 5’9, 176lbs, the transition to a more physical style of game on a smaller NHL rink could be a concern. We know that Mike Babcock has been watching Group B very closely so we can only assume he’s seen a couple Switzerland games – and if he’s seen the Swiss play he’s definitely noticed the diminutive defender.
Given that he is one of the best defenders in the NLA, it’s conceivable to think that Leoffel had been identified by scouts and now Babcock is watching to see if he’s a guy that can fit into the Maple Leafs’ defensive system.
Maybe he’s totally off the radar, or maybe Romain Loeffel could end up being a nice replacement for the team’s third pair if Connor Carrick is lost to Vegas in the expansion draft. Toronto’s front office will always exhaust all resources when it comes to improving the organization – so you know at the very least they’re looking.