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Nazem Kadri will be back in the lineup eventually, and someone will be out of a job

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The music is going to stop and three exciting wingers will be scrambling for the last spot on the Leafs bench.

Toronto Maple Leafs v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Nazem Kadri is currently not playing, and has not yet practised with the Leafs on their road trip, but he looks due to come back sooner rather than later. When he does, and William Nylander converts back to a winger and pushes Connor Brown back to the fourth line, someone is coming out of the lineup.

The three contenders for exciting scoring winger on the fourth line all look promising, and maybe even more than just promising. This isn’t an easy decision. But this game of musical chairs is going to have some losers.

Tyler Ennis

Toronto Maple Leafs v New York Islanders Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Age: 29
Born: Edmonton, AB
Shoots: Left and plays either wing, hasn’t played C in years
Height: 5’ 9”
Weight: 161 lbs

Ennis has played 338:22 at five-on-five this season. He started out with Auston Matthews, but had to give up the fill-in for William Nylander job to the surging Kasperi Kapanen. He’s only played 40 games, missing a little over a month with a broken ankle, and he also sat out some games when healthy. He has 10 goals and two assists playing an average of 8:27 per game, and he also plays the power play second unit some of the time, where he has two goals and three assists.

He is on track to be one of the most successful fourth liners in recent memory.

His Points per 60 minutes at five-on-five (P/60) is seventh on the team, fifth if you lop off the two occasional players at the top of the list. He is tied with Kapanen and ahead of Zach Hyman, Nazem Kadri, Frederik Gauthier, William Nylander, Connor Brown, Patrick Marleau and the departed Par Lindholm and Josh Leivo.

You can re-read my preseason story on Ennis here:

And if his shooting does regress to his mean? He’s going to look overqualified for that fourth line job really quickly. If it regresses to the point he’s actually producing more than Marleau? That’s an interesting and awkward situation to navigate. What a nice problem to have, though, that the depth guy might be too good.

And here we are.

Trevor Moore

Washington Capitals v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Age: 23
Born: Thousand Oaks, CA
Shoots: Left and plays either wing, hasn’t played centre since college
Height: 5’ 10”
Weight: 182 lbs

Moore has played only 102:37 minutes at five-on-five in 12 games and has one goal and six assists, playing an average of 8:33 per game. He’s played almost entirely on the fourth line and has 16:04 away from Frederik Gauthier.

His small sample P/60 is a hilarious 4.09 that should not be taken seriously at all. His shooting percentage is currently 14.29 per cent.

In the Ennis article, I called Moore a “borderline call-up”, but this season he’s laid down a fantastic set of games in the AHL, where he upped his shot rate and played a more meaningful role. He’s leapt right over the border and looks like an NHLer to anyone who cares to pay attention.

Sounds like he’s got the job.

Nic Petan

Team Canada v Team Slovakia Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Age: 23 (he has a birthday this month)
Born: Delta, BC
Shoots: Left, plays left wing and centre, but I have no solid information on when he last played C.
Height: 5’ 9”
Weith: 179 lbs

Petan has played one game for the Leafs, and scored a goal, so he’s our team leader in P/60 and just about everything else from 6:49 of play. In 13 games for the Winnipeg Jets before he was traded, he had two assists playing 7:10 per game on average. He played most of his time with rookie centre Jack Roslovic and Brendan Lemieux, a player the Jets also traded away. Suffice it to say, the Jets’ fourth line was not working for them in that configuration.

Petan is famous for a good WJC performance for Canada, but the much more interesting thing is his year in the AHL last season.

Nic Petan last year vs Trevor Moore this year in the AHL
Prospect Stats

Judging by his lower shot rate than Moore’s and his higher assist rate, we might see the glimmerings of a difference in style between Petan, Moore and Ennis. Petan is more of a passer and playmaker than the other two, but he has a shot that scores goals too.

He looks like a player ready to make the jump.

Conclusion

While this is the best problem to have, it is a problem. The music will stop soon, Nazem Kadri will be back and two of these three players will come out of the lineup. That is, barring an unexpected choice from Mike Babcock.

He could take out Frederik Gauthier and turn one of these three wingers, none of whom are righties, into the fourth line centre. The Leafs don’t currently use the fourth line in a heavily defensive role, and while Gauthier has some defensive zone faceoffs, it’s not his primary deployment. He does win his faceoffs with regularity though.

Babcock could also take Connor Brown right off the third line and straight out of the lineup to keep two of these three wingers. Brown has a shooting percentage this season that would be bad for a defenceman, and his normally low shot rate has dwindled to defenceman territory as well. Brown, like the rest of the bottom six, has a low (for the Leafs) Corsi Against, and he’s been effective defensively this season. He is primarily a “without the puck” player this season on the Leafs, and he’s a different sort of depth player to our three listed above. Of all of them, Moore can likely combine some of what Brown does with some of what a scoring winger does and give you the best of both worlds.

I find it really hard to imagine a “just play this winger as 4C” idea coming to fruition without an injury forcing it. People have been theorizing for years that this or that winger should just play centre, and it hasn’t happened yet.

I also find it really hard to imagine that Connor Brown and his worker bee game is coming right out of the lineup.

Nic Petan, who is an RFA this summer and will almost certainly sign a nice cheap deal like Moore’s, is next year’s man, barring injuries opening the door. Ennis is the seasoned pro with proven scoring ability and Moore is the poster boy for the Leafs scouting and development system.

Who do you play?

Given the injury Ennis is just back from, I’d play him and Moore half and half and I’d try to get Petan on the ice one more time before the playoffs.

Come playoffs? I’m a blue chip investor in the playoffs, and I’d go Ennis all the way over speculating on the future awesomeness of Moore.

What would you do?

Poll

Who do you want to have stay in the lineup the most?

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    Trevor Moore
    (637 votes)
  • 57%
    Tyler Ennis
    (1413 votes)
  • 5%
    Frederik Gauthier
    (136 votes)
  • 11%
    Connor Brown
    (284 votes)
2470 votes total Vote Now