Every NHL team will deal with injuries at some point during their season, though some more than others. The Leafs have been pretty lucky in that regard this year, mostly in terms of not having any of their most important players miss a lot of time. However, there’s no question that their depth at times has been recycled due to various injuries, and that some guys have been banged up or playing hurt (coughs in the direction of Jake Muzzin).
Now, Mitch Marner got hurt in a practice collision with Jake Muzzin. He missed last night’s game, and Keefe has already ruled him out for tonight’s game against the Jets. Petr Mrazek and Ilya Mikheyev are still on the recovery path. Ondřej Kaše recently returned to the lineup after missing a couple of games. Jason Spezza got a bit banged up against the Wild, likely throwing his back out by trying to carry the rest of the Leafs on his shoulders.
Another injury or two, and you’re looking at a scenario where the Leafs may be turning to someone new. Or new-ish. And to make it more spicy, one of those new-ish guys won’t be Kirill Semyonov who recently decided to head back to Russia.
Josh Anderson/Kyle Clifford
These two have been the guys with a go-bag at hand for their travels between the Marlies and Leafs, especially Anderson. Anderson is an averaged sized energy guy with some skill, scoring around 0.64 points per game in the AHL and 0.24 in 54 NHL games. Clifford is a grizzled vet who can have some decent impacts, but the sun is setting on his career and he isn’t what he used to be. You can set the odds of any depth call up being one of these two very, very high. Because...
Steeves is maybe a surprise, given that the Leafs just signed him to an ELC out of the NCAA. But he hasn’t looked out of place in professional hockey, getting rave reviews for his play from Marlies folks and racking up 7 goals and 12 points in only 11 games. He’s a long shot to be called up, since he is still only 21 and has a bit more room to grow. But he’s put a good foot forward so far this year.
I’m sure he’s the name most people think of and want, not realizing the situation is pretty complicated. Because Ho-Sang is not on an NHL deal, he can’t be called up to the Leafs until he signs one. And when he signs one, he would need to be put through waivers to be sent back to the Marlies. So the only situation where he gets called up to the Leafs is when a) he’s just so clearly too good for the AHL and the Leafs think he can have a good offensive impact in the NHL, and b) there is long-term room for him on the roster due to injuries or trades. Basically, a lot needs to happen for Ho-Sang to be a viable call up option, so I wouldn’t count on it.
Kristians Rubins, Alex Biega, Brennan Menell
If the Leafs ever have a significant injury on defense, more than just the usual guy being banged up and needing a few games off, you can pick any of these three out of a hat. Rubins is big, young, and skates well for his size. The Leafs like him, and he would fill that third pair/PK role. Biega could do the same on the right side, though he is older and more of a known commodity. Menell is far less likely, but maybe if one of Rielly or Sandin (or both) get hurt and they really want an offensive defenseman who can quarter back PP2 for them or something. There isn’t really anyone else to consider. Sandin and Liljegren are already on the NHL roster, and MarMar ain’t around anymore.
Joseph Woll/Michael Hutchinson
These are the two goalies that seem like the guys the Leafs will call up in the event that Mrazek gets hurt again. Hutchinson needs to go through waivers when he is called up, unless they manage an emergency call up situation like they did earlier in the year. Woll is safe to be called up and sent down, so if they don’t have an emergency situation you can expect them to use Woll as long as he keeps delivering surprisingly good results.
Usually the Leafs have fallen apart when falling behind early, for example the Penguins game from earlier in the season, but credit to them they fought back and tied the game all before the third period. Spezza was obviously huge in that, but all of Matthews, Tavares, Nylander, and Rielly brought their A-game. They showed fight, which is promising.
Baited as you might have been by the headline, there is a real possibility that the run of play that Toronto has been on lately is the best this team has ever been. The idea was spurred by our own Nick Barden as an offhand thought: “I think they’re much better than last year’s team”. But we can go a step further than comparing this year to last year, thanks to data. In this post, I’m going to compare the entire Matthews-era Leafs against itself, to find when exactly this team has looked its most “juggernaut-y”.
Sheldon Keefe on the Mitch Marner-Jake Muzzin incident in practice | transcript by MLHS
After the collision, Marner and Muzzin had words at the bench, and it seemed a little heated. What is your perspective on that? Are you glad to see competitors going at it? Do you check in to make sure it is all good?
Keefe: I was told that there was a little bit of an exchange right before I came out here, but especially with those two guys, I don’t worry about that kind of stuff at all. Things happen out there, whether it is in practice or games. Our team is really close and that kind of stuff will be shaken off really quickly.
13. While the team’s second pair has been rather disappointing, that’s mitigated by how strong the third pairing has been. That’s mostly thanks to Rasmus Sandin, who has arrived as advertised — a potentially game-changing puck-mover from the back end.
Now, it’s important not to get too caught up in his sparkling numbers — the third pair is heavily sheltered — but at a certain point that can’t be used as an excuse against him. Playing against lesser competition doesn’t fully explain away a 65 percent expected goals rate... This isn’t the same as the people hyping up Travis Dermott back in the day. This looks real.
Your weekly update on various Leafs’ prospects...
Rodion Amirov — hasn’t played for more than a month, but we have had word from the team that he is expected to return to KHL action on Monday!
Topi Niemelä — he’s cooled off his torrid point production, having 4 points in his last 7 Liiga games. Which is still very good for him.
Roni Hirvonen — Hirvonen has had a slower start, but has been picking it up of late. He has 5 points in his last 5 games, his ice team has been creeping up, and he’s averaged almost four shots on goal per game.
Matthew Knies — another successful weekend for Knies. He “only” had one point, an assist, but in two games against one of the top NCAA teams (Michigan), Knies looked like one of the best, most dangerous players. His assist in the first came was a highlight reel worthy deke, where he just pantsed top prospect Luke Hughes. And while he had no points last night, it was not for lack of trying...
Nick Abruzzese — I haven’t been able to watch much of him yet, but he just keeps producing points albeit against lower-rung NCAA teams. After a goal and two assists last night, he’s up to 15 points in 11 games. Which is... good, but for his age and profile you’d expect him to be better.
Joe Miller — he is on some kind of heater. With a goal and an assist on Saturday night, Miller has a 10 game point streak where he has 5 goals and 16 assists. For the season, his 29 points is good for fourth in the USHL.
Ty Voit — Voit has been moved to center, been used on the PP and PK, and has put up 27 points in 20 games while averaging over 3 shots per game. He has only two games all season where he’s been without a point.
William Villeneuve — Villeneuve is another prospect on a hot streak. He has points in 6 straight games (12 points), raising his season total to 21 points in 23 games. But 20 of those points have come in his last 15 games. He’s more than made up for his slow start. He’s also tied for second in the league in GF% — the hip new version of +/-, which is not that meaningful but shows how well his defense and two-way play has been while also producing points.
Artur Akhtyamov — after really struggling for the first chunk of the season with a save percentage under .900 in the VHL, Akthyamov has appeared to find his game again. He has rattled off 6 straight games never allowing more than 2 goals, good for a .941 sv% over that span.
AROUND THE HOCKEY WORLD
I was gonna include a bunch of other news, rumours and highlights from around the league. But instead I’m just going to leave a few tweets here...
Rogers Arena crowd is very restless right now.— Clay Imoo (@CanuckClay) December 5, 2021
Chants of “Fire Benning” and a lot of booing. #Canucks
A jersey has been thrown onto the ice in Vancouver...— Julian McKenzie (@jkamckenzie) December 5, 2021
dumoulin trying to shove the jersey back over the glass is sending me pic.twitter.com/144nBF8cc8— Lauren Kelly (@laurkelly24) December 5, 2021
Have a great Sunday everyone!