The darling of Leafs Nation, Travis Dermott burst into the NHL on January 6th, 2018, literally. In his debut game, Dermott dazzled fans in Toronto and Vancouver with his blistering quickness, shocking confidence, and untamed youthful exuberance. He would record his first career assist in the shootout win (thanks, Tyler Bozak).

Remember he started his career wearing Dion Phaneuf’s old #3? Wild times.

The Votes

There’s a general consensus among the PPP crew as to where Dermott fits. Not close to the Big Four, but in the range of the Kasperi Kapanen and Timothy Liljegren. Dermott and Kapanen are within a year of each other in terms of age, and both broke into the NHL full-time at the same time after strong AHL seasons. Liljegren showed well among the group because of his upside and right shot. The community also appears to be in agreement with this position. Yay! Everyone’s getting along!!

The Player

In his first NHL draft with the team, Kyle Dubas famously traded down (twice) in order to take Dermott with their second pick in 2015, 34th overall. Touted as a smart defender who benefited from having Connor McDavid, Dylan Strome, and Connor Brown as his teammates on the Erie Otters of the OHL. Looking back, it’s shocking to think that one of the criticisms of Dermott’s play was that he lacked the top-end speed and offensive production needed to be a real NHL top prospect. Thank you, Barb!

Following his junior career, Dermott joined the AHL Toronto Marlies for their 2016 playoff run. Despite only getting into one game during that brief post-season, Dermott took on a top-4 role with partner Viktor Loov almost immediately. There wasn’t much to get excited about regarding Dermott that season; five goals and 24 points in 59 games and firmly in the shadow of best friend Andrew Nielsen’s flashy first season in the league. Dermott took that time to improve his skating, gap control, play in the defensive zone (which had already improved greatly in the final two OHL seasons), and play on the penalty kill.

In a quick aside, Dermott’s 2016-17 season looked very similar to Liljegren’s 2017-18 season in terms of areas that they focused on and improved in. Neither were sheltered considerably by Sheldon Keefe, nor did they put up big offensive numbers. This is not to say 2018-19 will be “Timoth’s” big break-out season, far from it. There is still a ways to go for him when it comes to his skating stride and showing the ability to dominate the ice as Dermott did later into his rookie year. Liljegren is also a full year and a half younger than Dermott was in his first year. Patience, grasshopper.

2018 Top 25 Under 25: #7 Timothy Liljegren

Then the 2017-18 came and the 20-year-old stepped into spotlight. A fantastic 28-game stretch to begin the season for the Marlies saw the quickly ascending prospect put up a 69% GF% (20 for, 9(!) against). Over the course of the season, the only players with a better goal differential were Kapanen, Miro Aaltonen, and Mason Marchment. Dermott was far-and-away the best defender on the Marlies and became the defensively responsible mentor to 18-year-old rookie Liljegren on the first pair.

On January 5th, Dermott was called up to the NHL and never looked back (except the two games he played for the Marlies during the Leafs’ week off, and the Calder Cup playoffs). Both the fans and organization alike were finally able to witness the dynamic, confident, new-age defenseman that was Travis Dermott. And when I say “new-age” I really mean it.

Following his first game, Dermott admitted that the big difference between the NHL and AHL is that he doesn’t have as much time to hold onto the puck at the higher level, and that opponents are on you that much sooner than at the lower level. Considering Dermott’s strengths are in his feet, hands, and ability to think the game at a fast pace, it clearly didn’t take long for him to adjust. In third-pair minutes on the Leafs, Dermott posted the best shot, shot-attempt, goal, and scoring chance differentials among the defensemen on the team. (All stats 5v5 score and venue adjusted via Natural Stat Trick).

A grain of salt with these stats, Dermott was given very cushy minutes with partner Roman Polak. Using Corsica’s adjustment for Quality of Teammate and Quality of Competition (whose weight can be looked into more here) see Dermott’s shot attempt ratio drop below 50%, but only just. Considering the way Mike Babcock uses his top-4 — Morgan Rielly’s pair tends to get top competition, while Jake Gardiner gets heavy even strength minutes against second- and third-lines — it’s expected that he beats up on the competition he gets, if he didn’t it would be concerning (see Polak, Roman).

Another concern is whether he’s ready to take on the best players in the league every night. We haven’t seen him put that in such a situation yet. Even in the playoffs, Dermott was given a 68.75 zone-start ratio while the rest of the defense was well below 50% and put up middling goal and expected goal differentials against the Boston Bruins. I guess what I’m trying to say is stop trying to trade Jake Gardiner.

It won’t necessarily take a Gardiner trade for Dermott to see top-4 minutes next year. He can play both his strong (left) and weak (right) side of the ice on defense. A promotion mid-season to play with Rielly or Gardiner isn’t out of the cards. Personally, I like this idea because it allows one of the Marlies’ left-defensemen to come up and play some regular minutes. The first players that come to mind are Calle Rosen, who is coming off a stellar playoffs, and Andreas Borgman, who showed potential in his first-half stint with the Leafs. However, nothing ever goes the way you think it will, so having those two 50-point defensemen ahead of him is a good safety net and will be a luxury during the hopefully long playoff run.

The Stats

Travis Dermott - Elite Prospects

SeasonTeamLeagueGPGATPPIM    PlayoffsGPGATPPIM 
 2011-2012York Simcoe Express Mn Mdgt AAAETAMMHL1927912|
Selects Hockey Academy U15WSI U1570224|
 2012-2013Newmarket HurricanesOJHL531141524|Playoffs244111514 
 2013-2014Erie OttersOHL673252845|Playoffs14055
 2014-2015Erie OttersOHL618374553|Playoffs205121722 
 2015-2016Erie OttersOHL516374365|Playoffs133111414 
Toronto MarliesAHL00000|Playoffs1000
Canada U20WJC-2050222|
OHL All-StarsJr Super Series10110|
 2016-2017Toronto MarliesAHL595192460|Playoffs11145
 2017-2018Toronto Maple LeafsNHL37112138|Playoffs7101
Toronto MarliesAHL282161834|Playoffs1413418 
 2018-2019Toronto Maple LeafsNHL-----|

The Video

First, a little taste of Dermott’s zone-entry ability, followed by his high-end offensive instincts. He’s such a treat. Enjoy.

It looks like he’s got zone denials down pat, too.

And how can we forget his first NHL goal! Be still, my beating heart.

Sometimes he gets caught flat-footed at his own blueline, but has the pure pace to get back and cover up for his mistakes.

Ian Tulloch did a great breakdown of Dermott’s play and his effectiveness in all three zones in an article for The Athletic here. The video clips alone are amazing to witness.

And finally, my favourite clip from the Calder Cup Finals.

Where does Travis Dermott start the season?

Third Pair1030

Where does Travis Dermott finish the season?

Third Pair299