The Toronto Maple Leafs’ organizational goalie situation is improving. Tonight Matt Murray will return to game action against his former Pittsburgh Penguins team after rehabbing an adductor injury. In addition, Ilya Samsonov will practice for the first time since his knee injury against the Boston Bruins last week.
Yesterday, young goalie Joseph Woll was also (finally) added to the list of goalies in the Maple Leafs’ organization now ready for practice and soon game action. Woll is scheduled to begin to practice with the team’s AHL affiliate the Toronto Marlies.
Woll Hasn’t Played Since Last March
The Maple Leafs chose Woll in the third-round (the 62nd overall pick) in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. It has literally been months between practices. Woll’s last game was on March 17, when the Hershey Bears’ Eddie Wittchow crashed into him.
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Yesterday, Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas noted that “We’re hopeful in the next two-to-three weeks that he (Woll) can be back up and cleared and get through full practices.”
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Dubas also noted that Woll had injured his ankle during his recovery from that March shoulder issue. That second injury extended his rehab time.
Watching the Maple Leafs’ Young Goalies in Action
One of my favourite parts of the Maple Leafs 2021-22 season was watching two young Maple Leafs’ goalies – Joseph Woll and Erik Kallgren – get a chance to make their NHL debuts. To my mind, both these young goalies played as well or even better than expected. Interestingly, however, neither seems to be getting any love from other Maple Leafs’ media.
Even yesterday, in The Athletic, Jonas Siegel wrote that the Maple Leafs “survived with Erik Kallgren between the pipes for a week.” (from” Monday Morning Leafs Report: What Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner (temporary?) breakup means,” Jonas Siegel, The Athletic, 14/11/2022).
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Earlier, as a group of writers, during the offseason in an August post, PensionPlanPuppets disparaged Woll’s ability. One noted, “When it comes to Woll, yes he played a couple of NHL games, but I think he’s very clearly topped out as an AHL starter-ish.”
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I’m actually unsure where these critiques come from. Yet, as I’ve read on a number of Maple Leafs’ sites, neither of these young goalies is getting much respect from Maple Leafs’ writers. At their best, most writers seem to see both as AHL goalies or perhaps as NHL backups at best. I disagree.
Woll’s History with the Maple Leafs
Woll signed a three-year contract extension in February. Last season, in November, when both Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek went down to injuries, Woll made his NHL debut. In that game, his team registered a 5-4 win over the Buffalo Sabres.
For me, Woll was one of the season’s best stories. When he was forced into NHL action, he looked solid. If his first four NHL starts were any indication, Woll seems to be the real deal. Counting all his NHL play, Woll strung together a record of 3-1-0, a goals-against-average of 2.76, and a save percentage of .911. He also registered a shutout.
The fact is that Woll, probably similar to any other goalie, benefits or suffers from the team that plays in front of him. His NHL records are appreciably improved over his AHL records. With the Marlies, Woll’s 2021-22 record was 6-7-0, with a goals-against-average of 3.36 and a save percentage of .907. With the Maple Leafs, Woll had a record of 3-1-0, with a goals-against-average of 2.76 and a save percentage of .911.
That’s because the Maple Leafs were better defensively in front of him than the Marlies were.
Woll’s Contract Suggests the Team Sees Him as a Goalie of the Future
Where is Woll in the Maple Leafs’ plans? The logic of his contract suggests that the organization, barring injury, sees him in the NHL full-time next season. His new contract guarantees him $450,000 during this 2022-23 season (per CapFriendly) on a two-way contract. Next season and the season after, he’s on a one-way contract.
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With his injury, things have not been going as planned. Yet, given his success at the NHL level, it would seem he’s headed toward full-time NHL employment. Things point toward a full-time roster position next season. It seems that the median age when NHL goalies find their way to an NHL roster is 24. That’s exactly Woll’s age right now and will be when his one-way contract begins.
Woll’s Job Over the Remainder of this Season
Right now, Woll’s job is to show that he’s recovered from his recent injuries and that he can make a strong run with the Marlies. However, with Keith Petruzzelli and Kallgren eventually returning to the Marlies after his own NHL stint, the Marlies’ crease will be crowded. How big an issue will that be?
One of these three goalies will emerge as a keystone in the Maple Leafs’ goalie plans moving forward. Can Woll play well enough to reclaim the organization’s third-string position? Whatever happens, the Maple Leafs’ goalie depth looks to be strong for the future.
As general manager Kyle Dubas noted earlier, “I feel good about Kallgren and Woll battling there as well and that gives me confidence that the focus will certainly be one (goalie) and then we’ll see what the cap situation is from there, and proceed.”
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Now, of course, Petruzzelli is in the mix. It should be an interesting two years for the Maple Leafs in the net. It seems the Maple Leafs’ goaltending problems might be solving themselves.