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With Zach Hyman Out, Timing’s Perfect for New Maple Leafs’ Nick Foligno

When the Toronto Maple Leafs traded for Nick Foligno, they probably didn’t think they would use him so quickly. What happened?

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First the Bad News

After tests today, it was determined that the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Zach Hyman will miss a minimum of two weeks with to a sprained MCL. On one hand, that Hyman’s ACL is only sprained is really good news. Hyman had surgery to repair that same ACL on that same knee in 2019, and it took a long time for him to return.

On the other hand, the team can’t afford to miss Hyman for too long. The 28-year-old power forward is growing into a core player for this team and has become the promoter of great play, regardless of whatever line he plays on. To date on the season, Hyman has scored 15 goals and 18 assists (for 33 points) in 43 games.

Zach Hyman Toronto Maple Leafs
Zach Hyman, Toronto Maple Leafs

The question is whether Hyman can be replaced, and who might try.

Related: Leafs to Bench William Nylander for Being Late, Hyman Injury Update

Second the Good News

Just prior to the NHL trade deadline, the Maple Leafs picked up veteran Nick Foligno from the Columbus Blue Jackets. And, as I write this post, Foligno is almost completed with his mandatory COVID protocol that requires him to quarantine for a week upon moving to Canada. The plan is that when he’s completed that quarantine – which will be on Wednesday of this week – he’ll join the Maple Leafs in Winnipeg.

According to his new head coach Sheldon Keefe, Foligno’s been going through his mandatory seven-day quarantine and his first day with the team is scheduled to be on Thursday. The plan is that Foligno will play Thursday night against the Jets. 

Third the Fortunate News

The fortunate news is that, if Hyman were going to become injured, the emergence of Foligno on the scene offers a way for the Maple Leafs to cover Hyman’s two-week absence. In fact, there’s a chance that Foligno could become the reinforcements that arrived just at the right time. With Hyman out of the lineup, that means there’s more opportunity for Foligno to step up and have a place on his new team.

In an interview today between Sportsnet’s Ken Reid and Justin Bourne on Sportsnet Central, the twosome talked about Foligno’s coming in at a time when he can step up for the Maple Leafs in the absence of Hyman.

It Would Be Difficult to Take Zach Hyman’s Place

As Bourne noted, Hyman’s absence allows Folino to have a greater opportunity and more ice time. On the other hand, Bourne noted that “It also means the Leafs are going to have to figure out how to win without the guy who always stands in the blue paint.”

Bourne also made the point that Hyman “was a fixture for the team” and that “any line you put him on, he made it better and brought a lot of people’s level up.”

Bourne’s assessment is that the Maple Leafs will “have to find that (the ability to lift teammate’s skill levels) from other places in the lineup.” And, that’s possibly where Foligno comes into play. He certainly can take on some of the minutes that Hyman so regularly plays.

Foligno Maple Leafs Bettman NHL
Nicke Foligno Was Part of a Three-Way Deal for the Maple Leafs

As Bourne noted, he’s not sure Foligno thought he was coming here to step in for Hyman because those “are pretty big shoes to fill, but he’ll have to play at least the role of Hyman-light and hopefully everyone else can make do in the absence of a guy they’ve come to lean on pretty heavily.”

Related: Patrick Marleau Gets Emotional Talking About Breaking Howe’s Record

The Maple Leafs Traded for Nick Foligno – No Need for Him to Become Anyone Else

Although Foligno can’t play on Tuesday, he will be able to play on Thursday against Winnipeg. Bourne suggests that Foligno should just come in and “plays like Nick Foligno, and don’t try to be somebody else.”

Bourne noted that something (the player tries to change his strengths) often happens when a new player comes to play in Toronto, and he offered the example of David Clarkson who he believed wanted so badly to be like the “tough, rugged Darcy Tucker that everyone loved here in Toronto.”

Perhaps, as he noted, “it’s (taking Hyman’s place) not that easy, so you do have to just come here and be yourself and let it happen.” Bourne hoped that Foligno has “enough in the tank that it works out for him.”

Good advice – just be the Nick Foligno the team traded for. As Reid chipped in, “In the wise words of Audioslave, ‘to be yourself is all that you can do.’”

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