The Toronto Maple Leafs are entering their centennial season full of optimism for the future, with a number of young prospects looking to establish themselves in the team’s line-up.
Having a strong core of youngsters can drive the team forward for many years to come, but a team must also have strong leadership to keep the rookies focused on improving.
The Leafs are one of seven teams in the NHL, including the Hurricanes, Oilers, Panthers, Predators, Blues and Jets, that does not have a named captain.
Dion Phaneuf, the most recent Leafs captain, was traded last season and the team will now be looking at their options for who can wear the revered ‘C’ on their jersey.
But who could be in line to lead the team into their 100th season?
JAMES VAN RIEMSDYK
Van Riemsdyk is a popular figure with the Leafs faithful, with the potential to score 20+ goals a season when healthy.
He is the team’s best left winger, with his spot on the top line cemented, and has plenty of NHL experience with his time in Philadelphia and Toronto.
JVR has played 446 regular season games in the NHL and was a key part of the Leafs’ last playoff run in 2013, scoring 7 points in 7 games for the Leafs.
The American international winger is not the most vocal of players but he plays with determination and gives 100% when he is on the ice.
While he is a key player for the Leafs, he has never held an ‘Alternative’ captain role with the team and has to prove he is capable of providing the leadership that the Leafs will no doubt expect of the captain leading the team during their centennial.
Rielly is viewed by many Leafs fans as the team’s future captain. So why not name him?
He is a talented young defenseman that has stepped up to the plate, now being the Leafs’ best blue-liner after the team dealt Phaneuf to the Ottawa Senators.
The biggest knock on Rielly is his age. He is just 22 years old and is only three years into his NHL career, meaning that he is one of the least experienced players on the team.
Now, age should not be the deciding factor for selecting a captain as other NHL teams have chosen players in their low-to-mid twenties to lead the way.
But would a 22 year old Rielly be able to handle the extra pressure of leading the team?
Head coach Mike Babcock may delay Rielly’s seemingly secure future as the team’s captain, giving him more time to develop into the best player he can possibly be before handing him extra responsibility and pressure.
Komarov is an extremely popular figure in Toronto, particularly with how his play has improved greatly since re-joining the team.
Last season was Komarov’s best in the NHL, scoring 19 goals and 36 total points in 67 games.
Komarov also has leadership experience, having been an alternative captain for the Leafs last season as well as holding the same role with Dynamo Moskva of the KHL two years earlier.
Some fans may not wish to see Komarov gifted the ‘C’ due to his stop-start career and the fact that he has played less NHL games than Rielly and JVR – 171 compared to 236 and 446 respectively.
A gritty player that gives everything to the team and has great personality, but is he the right man to lead the team through such a historical season?
The Leafs have a number of other minor options for the captaincy, with the likes of Tyler Bozak and Matt Hunwick having held alternative captain roles with the team and having plenty of experience.
But which player has the best chance of taking the mantle? Will the Leafs even have a full captain heading into their 100th season?