Here’s the second edition of NHLTradeTalk’s Maple Leafs’ shots, where I’m going to try to give Toronto Maple Leafs’ fans a collection of little “shots” of news and commentary about the individual players on the team.
As a writer who covers the Maple Leafs every day, these little “shots” just seem to get collected as notes. Here I share them with readers.
Maple Leafs’ Shot #1: Ilya Mikheyev
I just have the feeling that Ilya Mikheyev isn’t yet the player he’s going to become. He has some amazing skills and a motor that just seems to keep running – Pierre Engvall has the motor but I don’t think he has the same skill set.
How many breakaways has Mikheyev had playing short-handed without scoring? Still, I think he’s an amazingly strong penalty-killer and will likely gain a better shot with more experience. Until then, he’s a strong defensive player whose speed really is impressive. He’s a keeper.
For example, if I remember correctly, I think I saw him beat the Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid going down ice for a loose puck a few games ago. Who does that?
Where to play him is a question. As a depth player, he adds a shutdown element to the bottom six; however, he hasn’t scored in that role. Unlike veteran Jason Spezza, he can’t yet generate his own offense even with his good skills. He’s only scored one assist in his last nine games and he hasn’t scored a goal in 10 games. His offensive talent seems held back in that role.
Fortunately for the Maple Leafs, there’ll be another season after this to figure out his place in the lineup. I suspect and hope he’ll be a Maple Leafs’ player for a long time.
Maple Leafs’ Shot #2: Alex Kerfoot
Alex Kerfoot is the one player who’s always first on the list of Maple Leafs’ players who’s going to be moved. That’s because his salary of $3.5 million (he has two more seasons on the contract after this one) seems sufficient to help the team manage its relentless salary-cap issues.
And that might be true. In fact, the Maple Leafs might choose to leave Kerfoot exposed during the expansion draft and, if I were the Kraken brain trust, I’d grab him. He’s everywhere on the ice and plays with a bit of an edge, but he hasn’t had much finish in his game this season – he’s only scored Kerfoot’s eight goals and 13 assists (for 21 points) in 53 games on the season. [He had much higher scoring numbers in Colorado with the Avalanche.]
That said, Kerfoot is versatile and that will help during the postseason. He plays both center and wing – perhaps he’s even better at the wing. And, he adds value to any line he plays with. Should there be an injury to anyone on the top six, Kerfoot could fill in well.
I hope he stays with the team, but I get it if he’s moved or allowed to be drafted. Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas seems able to attract highly-skilled older veterans who want another chance at a Stanley Cup – Spezza and Joe Thornton, for example. And, Dubas does this at the NHL league minimum of $700,000. Here the math is simple. Kerfoot’s $3.5 million contract is exactly five Jason Spezza(s) or clones thereof.
Maple Leafs’ Shot #3: Nick Foligno
Nick Foligno, who tweaked something in a strange accident that looked like not much but turned out to be probably a back issue – we know it’s “upper body,” has been a refreshing addition to the Maple Leafs’ roster. He has stuff to say – similar to Joe Thornton. In fact, they both seem at ease in front of a mic and answer questions easily and straightforwardly. And, he’s a positive influence – you can tell by listening.
He’ll probably (is there a chance he won’t?) return to the Columbus Blue Jackets because that’s home for his family. However, he seems to really be enjoying playing with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner on the Maple Leafs’ top line. Who knows? He’s from Sudbury and his family lives there during the offseason.
The good news is that Foligno skated on his own after practice on Friday. After Monday’s injury he didn’t play on Thursday and he’ll likely not play on Saturday either. But he is healing and will likely be good to go during the playoffs. Also, fortunately, he’s had some time to gain some chemistry with his new teammates. That has to help.
Question to Consider: Is there any chance in the world that Nick Foligno, who’s contract of $5.5 million expires after this season, might stay in Toronto? He’d have to take an immense salary discount to do so, but would there be any attraction to do that? Similar to Spezza and Thornton, his name is not engraved on the Stanley Cup.
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