The Leafs are set to start another season without a star forward in the lineup. Last year it was the William Nylander negotiations which lasted all the way until December before he and his long blond locks returned for a 54-game campaign. Mitch Marner is the name of the game this time around, and despite the goal of wanting him signed before training camp, it continues to look as if this could dip into the regular season.
Marner being out creates another temporary hole in the Leafs lineup that will need to be filled via promotions or impressive debuts at camp.
You’ll remember last season had Tyler Ennis get the right-wing spot next to Auston Matthews. Ennis signed a league-minimum contract to shore up the Leafs fourth line after being bought out by the Minnesota Wild. He got an opportunity to play in the top-six putting up three points in four preseason games including two goals.
However, it would end up being mostly a preseason combination as Matthews and Ennis only spent a little over 35 minutes together at 5v5 (via Corsica). After that experiment ran its course, Babs gave Kasperi Kapanen the nod before Nylander returned.
Someone else on the Leafs will have to get Ennis’d with the Marner circus going on. Not only that, but Zach Hyman and Travis Dermott are still expected to miss October recovering from their respective injuries.
So who is getting Ennis’d?
- Kasperi Kapanen - Kind of a no-brainer here. Kapanen may not be the playmaker Marner is, but that won’t stop Tavares from finding the back of the net. He’s also no slouch himself when it comes to putting up points. Kapanen broke out with 20 goals last season and has the speed to compete against other team’s top lines. Additionally, playing with Tavares could be a good way to start him up, as we’ve seen what 91 can do to others careers (Matt Moulson, Kyle Okposo, Anders Lee, etc.).
- Alexander Kerfoot - Many have Kerfoot pencilled in to centre the third line while Jason Spezza takes charge of the fourth. Kerfoot played down the middle in Colorado for the majority of the season in between Tyson Jost and Colin Wilson, but there were times where Kerfoot would play along the right wall while Jost was at centre. Whether Kerfoot plays centre or not is up to Babcock regardless of how much we scream about it. If Spezza gets in his good graces and winds up in the top-nine, Kerfoot could get a look with Tavares.
- Ilya Mikheyev - Babcock is itching to get Mickey on the ice and he can easily be slotted in on the fourth line to start. However, Mikheyev has a workhorse mentality that Babs gravitates to, and with Hyman out, the floor is open for the new guy in town to get a sniff next to Tavares on the left.
- Trevor Moore - Asking Mickey to go from the KHL to a top line in the NHL is a big demand, but Moore may be able to fill that role on a short-term basis. It’s not as if Moore is a seasoned veteran either, but he has quick feet and a willingness to do the little things to advance the puck to his linemates which is likely what he’d be asked to do if promoted.
Odds are Kapanen is first to get a shot next to Tavares but Babcock will have three weeks to determine the best options to fill the spot. That is unless Marner signs and Hyman comes back early.
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