Because the regular season has been suspended in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m trying to do at least two things in my News & Rumors posts about the Toronto Maple Leafs. First, I’m trying to offer a glimpse at what current Maple Leafs players are doing with their time off. Second, I’m collecting news emerging from the organization.
In today’s post, I’ll take a look at what Zach Hyman’s up to and I’ll share news about two young Maple Leafs prospects – goalie Joseph Woll and Nick Robertson.
Item One: Zach Hyman Wants to Be a Maple Leafs Player for a Long Time
Although Zach Hyman still has another year on his four-year, $9 million contract, in his time away from the game he’s looking to the future. In Thursday’s conference call with reporters, Hyman was clear what his wishes are: He wants to sign a contract extension with the Maple Leafs.
He added, “First and foremost, I would love to stay in Toronto. It’s where I grew up. I want to be a Leaf for a long time. In a way, with everything that’s happening now, I’m lucky that I have another year on my contract because everything will probably be sorted out by then with regards to the cap and whatnot and all those questions that nobody really has answers for right now. I would love to be a long-term Leaf and re-sign here. I want to be here and ultimately win a Stanley Cup.”
He was having a career season with 21 goals and 37 points in 51 games. That’s a bit surprising for Hyman who tore his ACL in April 2019, had knee surgery during the offseason, and was rehabbing during the first part of this season. In fact, he admits to still suffering pain even though he’s been able to play for about two-thirds of the season.
In the interview, he noted, “I’m just trying to get the knee feeling back to normal. When I was in the season, I called it ‘the new normal’ of just trying to manage the day-to-day soreness of it, and it got better as the season went on, but I definitely have work to do with it. I’ve put a lot of work into getting back to feeling a little bit normal.”
Fortunately or unfortunately, with the five-week suspension (so far) due to NHL’s response to COVID-19, Hyman has had more time to address his knee issue. Every NHLer has a different way of working through this “offseason” and Hyman noted that he’s gaming away much of his isolation.
In a previous post from 2018, I wrote about Hyman’s success as a children’s author. I wonder if he’ll use the time to pen another book which would be his fourth.
Item Two: Joseph Woll’s Season Filled with Ups and Downs
Joseph Woll was a standout goalie at Boston College, but his first pro season has been a struggle. In 32 games with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, Woll posted a goals-against average of 3.75 and a .880 save percentage. He admits that the transition to the AHL has been difficult.
Woll admitted: “It’s been a bit of a roller-coaster. For the first time in my life, I had a lot of ups and downs that I had to deal with, but things like that make you better in the long run.”
Like a number of other young goalies, he believes he needs to work on the mental aspect of his game. One thing, and I’ve heard this before from other goalies like Thatcher Demko (Vancouver Canucks), he’s realized that he needs to have a quick turnaround in his “mindset” so he can move on from one start (especially a loss) to the next. I can imagine that mental grind; but, for goalies, it must become part of their regular preparation.
It’s interesting to hear a youngster admit that. Despite being ready from a physical perspective, he was less prepared mentally for the transition to the AHL. The ability to admit as much shows his mental toughness, which suggests he has the potential to become the Maple Leafs’ goalie of the future.
Item Three: Nick Robertson Makes ESPN’s 2019-20 All-Prospect Team
Last week, ESPN Sports revealed its All-Prospect team for the 2019-20 season. Not surprisingly, Nick Robertson was named Maple Leafs’ Prospect of the Year. The 18-year-old had an amazing season with the OHL’s Peterborough Petes and scored 55 goals in 46 games. He was also a top performer for Team USA at the 2020 IIHF World Junior in the Czech Republic.
In his Hockey Buzz Blog, Mike Augello reported that general manager Kyle Dubas believed Robertson was “really strong for us in the rookie tournament in Traverse City, carried that through training camp. I think looking back and reflecting on it, we probably should have given him more of a look in training camp and probably reward (him with) an exhibition game or two to see how he did there, but he went back to Peterborough, had a great attitude and was an excellent player for them right away.”
Dubas added that, Robertson’s goal scoring was prolific, but what he liked best about the 19-year-old was “his play on the defensive side, especially on the penalty kill. His ability to win the puck back and then, and then tear down the ice and introduce chances and scoring for the Petes (and) obviously played a huge role (for Team USA at the 2020 World Junior) as well.”
There’s no question Robertson’s work ethic and big heart helps make up for a lack of size, but exciting would it be if the young winger challenged for a Maple Leafs roster next season?
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
It’s exciting to look at the potential of the prospects the Maple Leafs are signing. The team is becoming more well-positioned to respond to a potential salary-cap decrease in response to the NHL’s lost revenue given the suspension. It should be an interesting season.