Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Time: 7:00 PM
Place: Scotiabank Arena
Fresh off a brief but unpleasant road trip, the Leafs will try to get back to their previous winning ways against an old adversary, with two new players. Let’s get some pre-game music in here.
Built to Spill aren’t from Ohio, but there are no teams from Idaho, so the hell with it. This song rips.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Michael Bunting - Auston Matthews - Wayne Simmonds
Alex Kerfoot - John Tavares - William Nylander
Nick Ritchie - David Kämpf - Ondřej Kaše
Kyle Clifford - Pierre Engvall - Alex Steeves
Morgan Rielly - T.J. Brodie
Jake Muzzin - Justin Holl
Kristiāns Rubīns - Timothy Liljegren
Three injuries (to Rasmus Sandin, Travis Dermott and Mitch Marner), a pending suspension (to Jason Spezza) have made some substantial changes to the Leafs’ lineup. Sandin is anticipated to be out 2-3 weeks; Marner a depressing 3-4, and Spezza is facing a suspension that could stretch over five games, depending how his hearing this afternoon goes.
So about those substantial changes: as confirmed by Sheldon Keefe (via the Toronto Sun’s Terry Koshan), not one but two Leaf prospects will be making their NHL debuts tonight: Kristiāns Rubīns and Alex Steeves.
Rubīns is a big, defensively sound defenceman (he’s listed at 6’5”) who will turn 24 this week; maybe his debut is partly an early birthday present. He’s maybe the best example of Kyle Dubas’ dream of a three-level development system: Rubīns started out undrafted, put in an excellent year with the ECHL’s Newfoundland Growlers, got promoted to the Marlies, and is now on the edge of his first NHL GP. He’s not going to stun anyone with his puck movement and it would be optimistic to expect too much at the top level for him, but even making it this far is a testament to his work ethic and the good opinion of his coaches, who seem to like him very much.
Alex Steeves, the newly-promoted forward, also has an upcoming birthday; he will be 22 on Friday. When I first read about him, he profiled a bit like beloved prospect Adam Brooks did: small and not all that fast a skater, but a gifted playmaker and hardworking two-way C. However, more recent reports are higher on his skating than that, and I’ve seen nothing of him myself. Steeves has 12 points in 12 AHL games this year, and has been doing as well as that indicates: I asked one of our Marlies reporters, Species, for a quote:
I can say that I am not surprised he got the call up. He’s been talked up by Greg Moore a lot, with the same kind of glowing performance reviews I remember about Travis Dermott in the year before he became a permanent fixture on the Leafs, so clearly, like Dermott, he has been pencilled in for this eventuality for some time.
Kevin Papetti, formerly of our site and currently of MLHS, is also positive on the player, and seems to disagree with the profiles that were low on Steeves’ skating.
Steeves has been one of the better forwards on the Marlies in his rookie season.— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) December 7, 2021
He's a NHL-calibre skater with some goal-scoring talent. He wouldn't have been my first choice, but excited to see him play
I wouldn’t expect Steeves to play much, nor to rack up points on a line with Kyle Clifford and Pierre Engvall, neither of whom is exactly offensive dynamite. But stranger things have happened. Good luck to the new guys.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Max Domi - Boone Jenner - Jakub Voracek
Gustav Nyquist - Jack Roslovic - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Gregory Hofman - Cole Sillinger - Justin Danforth
Eric Robinson - Sean Kuraly - Alexandre Texier
Zach Werenski - Jake Bean
Vladislav Gavrikov - Andrew Peeke
Gabriel Carlsson - Adam Boqvist
Lines are care of Daily Faceoff.
The Columbus Blue Jackets have hung around the playoff race through the first third of the season despite not having a lot of big names, being projected high, or actually even playing very well. Their underlying numbers look about as good as you’d expect from a team playing Boone Jenner at 1C on purpose. They’ve gotten some good shooting, although the player you’d most expect to provide good shooting (Patrik Laine) is still working his way back from an oblique injury. They’ve won all five of their games that have gone to extra time this season, which is a tough trick to sustain.
This is a team in a transition year; likely the biggest excitement will come when they get to cash in at the draft. Columbus has both their own first-round pick and Chicago’s, which they got for Seth Jones and which is only protected if it lands in the top two. If the Jackets get the true 1C they’ve needed for almost their entire existence, it will have been a very good year.
But back to now: they do still have some good offensive wingers. Max Domi is a gifted playmaker, and Jakub Voracek is putting up a comically weird statline for a renowned RW (1 goal, 18 assists, 19 points.) Zach Werenski still moves the puck well and collects points in bunches doing so, and Adam Boqvist—another part of the Seth Jones return—has shown some real talent in his early NHL career.
So the Leafs shouldn’t expect any game against Columbus to be easy. Goaltending is a big factor in that, and Elvis Merzlikins is putting up another solid year in net. (Joonas Korpisalo, who bedeviled the Leafs in the 2020 qualifying round, is on injured reserve.)
There are no easy nights in the NHL, as the Leafs just experienced en route to losing a brutal game against a Jets team that mostly isn’t that good. But Toronto should be favoured in this one, despite their absences. Go Leafs Go.