Let’s talk Trevor Moore. I don’t think he picked number 42 to wear in the NHL by accident. He knows how hard his path is to skate down, and he’s recognizing the guy who did it before him in Tyler Bozak.

Moore, and you might have heard this a few million times if you’ve been watching his first few NHL games, was born in California. But he made his mark in hockey first in the USHL in Nebraska and then at the University of Denver, the same place Tyler Bozak got the Leafs to notice him. Bozak played two years in the NCAA with .95 points per game. Moore did three at .99.

Moore played top line at DU with Danton Heinen of the Bruins, and they were formidable at that level. The team went to the frozen four in 2016 and lost in the semi finals after making it to the regional finals (one stage earlier) in 2015. DU ran an all the eggs in one basket system in Moore’s time there, and he was a very important part of their success. But he’s not tall, and he seemed to be missing the sort of zing in his shot or offensive playmaking that gets you drafted while short. He was free for the signing in 2016 when he was invited to a Leafs prospect camp and really impressed.

At just 23, Moore is now in his third season of professional hockey, and he’s had 33 points in each of his first two AHL seasons. He impressed again with a very good playoff performance last season as the Marlies won the Calder Cup.

In 27 AHL games this year, he’s got 24 points already, fuelled by his own goal-scoring with 17 goals. It’s fair to say that’s a little rosy-looking, and represents a bit of a shooting percentage spike. But it also represents the standard Marlies development plan for a player like Moore. He started at the bottom on the fourth line with Frederik Gauthier, and moved up this year to a more offensively focused trio.

On the Marlies, a player with the sort of grit, grind and eventually shoot game that Moore had gets to play some fourth line first. The minutes are fairly evenly distributed by Sheldon Keefe, it seems, but no ice time statistics are kept for the AHL. Moore has always played some power play time, and about half to 40 per cent of his goals have come from there. That’s enough to show he’s good at it, but also that he plays a good five-on-five game too.

Lately, Moore has been playing with Mason Marchment and Adam Brooks as the third line. They roll out after the top two lines with the wingers who are a little more skilled at shooting, and their line creates a totally different experience for the opposition. Marchment is so close to Moore in all his stats and his style of play that it’s fun to see them working so well together.

In his very short stint on the Leafs, Moore is back with Gauthier. At first, he looked better than his centre, but that’s the lowest bar to hop in the NHL right now. Moore’s shot rate (individual Corsi For per 60 minutes) went from zero his first game to two games where it was below eight, which is really bad, and finally to very, very good in his last two games. It was actually the game against Minnesota, not the one against Vancouver where he scored his first goal, where Moore played the best. Against the Wild he had a meaningful fraction of an expected goal at .25.

His shot share in his last two games ballooned up to percentages over 60 when you score adjust them. In a stat important for a fourth line player, his expected goals against are really low in all his games.

He looks like a keeper. He really does. And while I understand why fans want him to stay and why they find him fun, there’s this to consider:

Babcock is not exaggerating the minutes either. This is all-situations time on ice for either Moore himself, or whoever was the fourth line centre in the game in question:

The average time on ice before William Nylander returned and solidified the top nine was 9.5 minutes. After he was back, it fell to 8.7 minutes.

There’s also no reason to play the fourth line more than eight or nine minutes, no matter who is on it. With Zach Hyman back, the top nine needs to have most of the ice time, and the only thing the fourth line needs to offer is one player to PK some of the time and one to join the second power play unit.

Moore’s not finished in the AHL. No matter how hard fans who want to see him in an NHL game insist that he’s got nothing else to learn, he’s just 23, and that’s not where players peak. He can go back to more power play minutes in the AHL, a top nine role, maybe even a top six role, and he can shoot more.

Moore has only just started shooting at an elite rate in the AHL; his first year was even worse than last season. The AHL is where he can get that baked harder into his game, and prioritized right up there with all the rest of what he brings to the team, which is a really enjoyable mix of toughness and speed.

The best thing about sending him down to play a lot is that he’s waiver exempt (as is Marchment) and he can be called up for road trips or to cover injuries. It’s possible the Leafs might choose to make his emergency recall a regular recall and keep him for a bit longer, but once Tyler Ennis returns, whenever that is, the Leafs will have an extra forward full time without Moore there. There is no way Moore should be sitting out unless they really need an extra on a roadtrip, and there’s very few of those left that take the Leafs out of range of a quick callup.

What will happen at the trade deadline is anyone’s guess. He might get called up when the roster limits are gone, but for now, he can play in the NHL when he’s needed, but he should play in the AHL as soon as possible to get ready for the day when he isn’t waiver exempt. That’s next season, and he’ll need to make the team out of camp. But before then it’s contract time this summer, so the Leafs do need to know what they have in Moore before then, much like Andreas Johnsson last year.

This is one of those times where you don’t pick the worst player on the team to cut. The Leafs need to balance the roster now with the roster they want next year, and one thing that will decide Moore’s fate as much as how he plays the rest of the season is what kind of second contract he signs this summer.