The Toronto Maple Leafs face the New York Rangers on Dec. 20, at Madison Square Garden. The team is looking for its fifth win in its last six games, with all but one of those wins coming on the road. For some reason, the team plays better away from home. The only blemish was a 4-2 loss in Calgary to the Flames on Dec. 12.
As the Maple Leafs get ready to face the Rangers, in this post I want to help Maple Leafs Nation stay in the know about emerging rumours about the organization.
Item One: Mikheyev Was Coveted by 20 Teams
Ilya Mikheyev has been a revelation. He’s scored goals in his last two games and his season’s total now stand at six goals and 13 assists in 35 NHL games. What’s more, he seldom looks lost. Even former head coach Mike Babcock noted that he would tell the young Russian what he should do, and then Mikheyev would go out and do it.
Few really knew how good Mikheyev would be, but he’s done more than most expected in his first year in North America. As surprising as that might be, Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic reminded us this week that the Maple Leafs weren’t the only team that saw something in the intelligent, speedy winger when he played in the KHL. Many realized Mikheyev could have a future on the smaller North American ice.
Pierre LeBrun tweeted that about 20 teams showed interest in Mikheyev before he picked the Maple Leafs, after the Chicago Blackhawks and the Vegas Golden Knights had chased him vigorously. But he plays in Toronto, on a one-year, entry-level contract. He’ll become a restricted free agent (RFA) at season’s end.
In a previous post, I’ve made my position on Mikheyev known. I look forward to seeing him with the club long-term and wonder what it might take to sign him to his next contract.
Item Two: Ian Scott Will Miss the Entire Season
The Maple Leafs announced that goaltending prospect Ian Scott will have hip surgery, and miss six months of action. That’s a setback both for Scott and the organization’s goalie development. Sadly, the news ends what should have been a stellar first professional season for the young goalie.
Related: Doug Harvey: Greatest of Them All?
Scott has talent, evidenced by his winning CHL Goaltender of the Year last season. However, he hasn’t played a single game for the Maple Leafs’ minor league affiliates (the Toronto Marlies or Newfoundland Growlers) this season. As a whole, the organization has strong goalies in its system, with starter Frederik Andersen at the top of the food chain, but the team hasn’t successfully found an answer it can live with for a backup goalie.
Young goalie prospects Scott and Joseph Woll are strong, but there’s a space between their abilities and experience and Andersen’s. Michael Hutchinson, who’ll start on Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings, has been maligned all season – probably with reason – and Kasimir Kaskisuo’s chance went sour when he was abandoned by his team during the end of Babcock’s tenure as coach.
Although Scott will have healed by 2020 training camp, missing a full season can’t help his development. Wishing him well with his surgery.
Item Three: What Does Keefe Think of Hutchinson?
To the question of when Hutchinson would get his next start, Keefe responded that he’ll get the start at home on Saturday against the Red Wings.
When asked about how Keefe feels about Hutchinson, because of his lack of opportunity to contribute to the team, Keefe didn’t come across all that “warm and fuzzy.” In fact, Keefe noted that Hutchinson has had his chances – just not recently.
As Keefe noted, the lack of opportunity “is something that is not as much about Hutch but we wish we could’ve gotten Freddy a break in there. Obviously, the one back and back where Freddy played both games, that’s kind of where Hutch lost his start.”
Keefe added, “This is another opportunity for him. He has had an excellent stretch of practice here much like he had when he was scheduled to start there. He was feeling good and looking good in practice. His demeanor has been really good. The feedback from Steve Briere (Maple Leafs’ goaltending coach) has been excellent. I am sure he is anxious to play.”
Hutchinson has a start coming and Maple Leafs fans have recently been pessimistic about the team’s chances when he’s in net. The first win of the season by a Maple Leafs backup would go a long way towards getting the goalie situation on track.
Item Four: Should Agostino Get a Shot with Matthews and Nylander?
On Dec. 19, Fansided’s Philip Van Riesen wrote an interesting piece suggesting that, with Andreas Johnsson out of action, the Maple Leafs should bring up Kenny Agostino (who Kyle Dubas signed to a two-year contract at $737,500 in the offseason) from the Marlies to play on a line with Auston Matthews and William Nylander.
He noted that Agostino was an NHL-caliber player currently playing on the Marlies’ top power-play unit and on a point-per-game pace with 24 points in 23 games. Although he’s been playing with the Marlies all season, Agostino has 85 games of NHL experience playing both wing positions.
Van Riesen believes the Maple Leafs are weak defensively and that the defense-first Agostino has enough talent to contribute offensively, so he could help the team on any line – similar to last season’s role-player Tyler Ennis who’s now with the Ottawa Senators.
Van Riesen outlined three reasons Agostino is a capable complementary player to Matthews and Nylander: (1) he’s a solid two-way player; (2) he plays defense-first, which would allow Matthews to do what he does best and that’s to shoot the puck; and (3) he has strong positioning in the offensive zone off the rush or in front of the net.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The team has had a relatively restful schedule, which has given them time to practice. This weekend, as noted, they play back-to-back against the Rangers on the road and the Red Wings at home. I’m hoping and expecting the team will win both games, which will inch them closer to a playoff spot.
If so, this weekend might be the start of a serious run, but they’ll need a win from Hutchinson to begin that process.
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf