Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Matthews, Kivihalme & Kressler

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at Auston Matthews’ return to a full-contact practice. I’ll report that the Maple Leafs placed Teemu Kivihalme on waivers late last week. And, finally I’ll report that Braeden Kressler has signed an entry-level contract with the organization.

Item One: Maple Leafs’ Matthews Getting Ready for Game Action

In one bit of good news, the Maple Leafs’ star center Auston Matthews has started to participate more fully in practice and is now taking full contact. Yesterday, TSN’s Mark Masters tweeted out a video of Matthews engaged in regular drills that included contact. It was the first time that’s been the case this season.

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Later yesterday, although it might just be wishful thinking, I heard that Matthews might also participate in the team’s last preseason game prior to their first game of the season on October 13. The 24-year-old Matthews looks as if he’ll be ready for the team’s entire regular season, just as anticipated after his mid-August wrist surgery.

Matthews led all NHL goal scorers with 41 goals in just 52 games in the COVID-19 shortened season and should be a favorite to do it again this season. 

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Matthews left practice a bit early compared to the rest of the players, but he stayed longer than coach Sheldon Keefe had expected. Keefe admitted that he was encouraged by Mathews’ progress.

Keefe reported to the media that Matthews “did a lot more today than we were expecting. He wanted to keep going, he felt good. He shot the puck a lot harder, I thought, today. It was the first time I saw him really leaning into one-timers.” 

Item Two: Maple Leafs Place Teemu Kivihalme on Waivers

Late last week, Teemu Kivihalme was put on waivers by the Maple Leafs. Kivihalme is a 26-year-old left-shot defenseman who was drafted by the Nashville Predators during the fifth round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft and who was signed in 2019 by the Maple Leafs. 

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He’s spent the last two seasons with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies and has scored 10 goals and 19 assists (for 29 points) in his 75 games. Last season he had six goals and five assists (for 11 points) in 20 Marlies’ games. 

Item Three: Braeden Kressler Signs Entry-Level Contract with the Maple Leafs

On Friday last week, Braeden Kressler signed a three-year, entry-level deal with the Maple Leafs. Kressler came on the scene as an un-drafted prospect during this season’s development camp and the rookie tournament. Because the OHL’s season was cancelled for 2020-21, his last season of formal hockey was played with the OHL’s Flint Firebirds in 2019-20. There the 18-year-old forward scored nine goals and nine assists (for 18 points) in 46 games. It’s expected that Kressler will play one more season in juniors. However, he obviously showed enough that the Maple Leafs gave him a three-year contract. 

Also on Kressler’s resume is that he ranked second for Firebird rookies in goals, assists, and points. He also played five games in the 2019 World U-17 Hockey Challenge. He was picked by the Firebirds in the second round (28th overall) in the 2019 OHL Priority Selection. He’s one of those youngsters that the Maple Leafs seem to be able to find because of its strong scouting staff.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Yesterday, ​​Mark Masters tweeted that Ilya Mikheyev was lining up with John Tavares and William Nylander with the team’s Group 2. That’s interesting and suggests that Mikheyev might be getting a further look at the left-wing with the team’s top six.

With a game tonight against the Ottawa Senators, it will be fun to see how the next three preseason games are played and who plays with whom. It’s been a competitive camp, and jobs are on the line. 

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Get ready for the 2121-22 regular season.

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