Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Murray, Marner, Engvall & Aston-Reese

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at Matt Murray as he prepares to start tonight’s game against the Montreal Canadiens. Second, I’ll look at a reported experiment that would make NHL All-Star winger Mitch Marner a “situational defenseman.”

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Third, I’ll report that Pierre Engvall has returned to practice and looks better than expected. Finally, I’ll consider a Zach Aston-Reese contract and what that might look like in terms of dollars. 

Item One: Goalie Matt Murray Scheduled for Full Game Tonight

Matt Murray is set to play a full game in net tonight against the Montreal Canadiens. Thus far, and obviously, it’s a small sample size, Murray has stopped every shot he’s faced during the preseason – going 16 for 16.

Matt Murray Ottawa Senators
Matt Murray, when he was with the Ottawa Senators
(Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

His colleague and competitor Ilya Samsonov, except for the last goal the Ottawa Senators scored during his team’s 6-3 win, has looked strong as well. The 28-year-old Murray and the 25-year-old Samsonov have both looked good thus far. In fact, their solid and calm play in nets has quieted the waves of critiques smashing against the Maple Leafs’ organization for signing these two players.

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The jury remains out for the twosome; and, there’s sure to be tough games coming. However, the contest between the two goalies is likely to continue into the regular season. Perhaps one will emerge as the easy choice to be the team’s starter. On the other hand, should they both play well, that’s even better for the team. 

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The only issue would be if neither plays well for extended periods of time, but fans have seen none of that yet. It just might be that the team has a pair of goalies who will more or less split the workload.

Item Two: Will Mitch Marner Play Defense Tonight?

It looks like Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe is ready to try the big experiment. The report is that he’ll try to utilize Mitch Marner as a “situational” defenseman. Situational means that he might come into the game to play defense when his team is trying to pin the opposition in their own end or “rattle them” by using a four-forward, one-defender lineup.

Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs
Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Coach Keefe believes that Marner can take advantage of his excellent skating to be used in that situation. He’s already proved his value as one of the NHL’s best penalty killers, and that means that he’s well-practiced in the craft of defending. Marner also works hard on skating backwards as a way to improve his own power-play transitions.

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As for Marner, he noted that he’s “open to all opportunities and whatever (coach Sheldon Keefe is) thinking.” 

Item Three: Pierre Engvall Has Returned to Training Camp

Pierre Engvall, who’s nursing an ankle injury, was part of Sunday’s practice. According to coach Keefe, Engvall has done more on the ice than he was expected to do. If that continues, Keefe reported that, if that continues, “we will ramp him up.”

Pierre Engvall Toronto Maple Leafs
Pierre Engvall, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Engvall won’t play in tonight’s preseason game against the Montreal Canadiens, and it isn’t clear if he’ll be able to play this coming weekend. But he is improving.

Item Four: Will Zach Aston-Reese Earn a Contract? If So, How Big?

Thus far, the checking line of Zach Aston-Reese, David Kampf, and Nicolas Aube-Kubel looks really good. That line rendered the Ottawa Senators’ top line ineffective during Friday’s 6-3 victory. It would seem as if signing Aston-Reese to a contract would be a no-brainer.

But what would be the value of that contract? Last season, he earned $1.725 million. However, before the Maple Leafs signed him to a PTO, he was passed over by every NHL club. He’s valuable to this team, that seems like a certainty. However, at what cost? 

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The team would have to squeeze him into a contract somewhere close to the NHL league minimum. I’m assuming he’ll be offered a contract out of training camp. In fact, I expect that to be announced sooner than later. 

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

To my mind, the signing of Mark Giordano was a strong pickup for the team. As the defense is being settled, with both Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin signed to two-year contracts, the value of Giordano as a teacher and mentor seems to take on an increased value.

Mark Giordano Toronto Maple Leafs
Mark Giordano, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)

I read that coach Keefe has spoken with Rasmus Sandin about playing on the right side. That means that a pairing of Sandin and Giordano is a possibility. But, is it a likelihood? 

We’ll see as the regular season progresses.

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