Even with the Toronto Maple Leafs overtime loss to the New York Rangers last night, the team has been on a hot streak going 8-1-1 in its last 10 games. Obviously, playing for new head coach Sheldon Keefe has fit what ailed this team.
Now the team faces some diversity, with two of its key players – defenseman Jake Muzzin and rookie standout forward Ilya Mikheyev – out with injuries. To address these losses, the team has made some player moves. In this post, I’ll try to keep Maple Leafs fans up-to-date on these movements and add in some of the other news surrounding the team.
Part One: Two Key Players Have Been Lost to Injuries
Key Player #1: Jake Muzzin
Last season, when general manager Kyle Dubas added Jake Muzzin from the Los Angeles Kings, I was pleased. And, I’ve grown to become a Jake Muzzin fan and believe the team will miss him more than many believe he will. As he was blocking a shot, a rocket off the stick of New Jersey Devils’ defenseman P.K. Subban broke Muzzin’s foot in the first period of the team’s overtime victory. Muzzin heroically finished the game, but now he’s out for a period of time that isn’t yet determined – although it’s been called “week-to-week.”
Head coach Keefe noted that the team would miss Muzzin saying, “It’s more than what he does on the ice for us. There are a lot of intangibles he brings from in the locker room to the bench, talking between whistles, and all those things.”
High-scoring forward Auston Matthews added that the team would miss Muzzin’s leadership and physicality, adding: “He held guys accountable in the dressing room. Obviously, we’re going to miss him quite a bit, but it’s an opportunity for others to step up.”
Key Player #2: Ilya Mikheyev
Sadly, because I think he had a chance to be a Calder candidate for best NHL rookie, Ilya Mikheyev’s hand was sliced open his wrist in the Devil’s game and he is expected to be out for at least three months and, perhaps, the season. Because tendons take time to heal and Mikheyev would need to gain strength before he returns, who knows how long that might be?
If that sounds scary, it was. The good news is that Mikheyev’s surgery was successful. The bad news is that he won’t skate with the team for at least three months after the surgery that repaired a cut artery and tendons. As the 25-year-old rookie’s agent tweeted below: “accurate timeline for his return will be provided in 90 days.”
The team will miss the young Russian for two reasons. First, he’s become a strong addition to the team’s top scorers. Second, he’s a great checking forward whose intelligence makes him a strong penalty-killer.
Part Two: Player Movements to Cover Injuries
Player #1: Adam Brooks
With Mikheyev out, 23-year-old Adam Brooks made his first NHL start against the New York Rangers in the team’s 5-4 loss. Brooks has played 171 regular season and playoff games for the Toronto Marlies. I hope he plays well, and it must have been fun being on the ice in his first NHL game.
Player #2: Kenny Agostino
The Maple Leafs recalled Kenny Agostino from the Toronto Marlies. Although Agostino has not played a shift in the NHL this season, he’s a point-a-game player in the minors with 26 points in 26 games. He probably won’t get enough ice time to duplicate those numbers with the Maple Leafs even if he plays well. However, he’s had some NHL success in 85 games. I hope the 27-year-old winger gets a chance to play with Mikheyev out.
Player #3: Timothy Liljegren
The Maple Leafs also recalled Timothy Liljegren from the Mariles, which gives the team eight healthy defensemen on its roster. Liljegren, who was a 2017 first-round pick, hasn’t yet made his first NHL start, but he too has been quite productive with the Marlies this season and has 17 points in 27 games. Who knows if he’ll play in his time with Maple Leafs, but sooner or late he’ll become a regular on the big club’s blueline. Might this be his chance?
Sadly, for the Maple Leafs, it’s young defenseman Travis Dermott is in a slump with only a single assist in his last 10 games. I think he’s a great young player with huge potential and I’m honestly surprised he hasn’t got untracked yet. That he hasn’t hit the score sheet with as many goals as the team has been scoring recently seems simply bad luck. We’ll see.
Part Three: Other Team News
In a bit of surprising news – at least to me – Frederik Gauthier’s ice time has been dropping since Sheldon Keefe has been the coach. Gauthier, who seemed to be one of Mike Babcock’s favorite players, has seen his ice time cut in half during the last two games.
Frankly, I thought Gauthier (“The Goat”) had started to have his best season. His skating had improved and he was able to work the cycle so well it made the fourth line really strong. He’s also grown better in the faceoff circle.
Although he seldom sits in the press box, he’s been getting less ice time. Gauthier skated only got 4:39 and 5:31 minutes of ice time in his last two games.
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