In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll share excerpts from a recent interview with Montreal Canadiens’ Tyler Toffoli that shows just how much he (now as an opponent) respects Maple Leafs’ defenseman Jake Muzzin. Second, I share news about Mikhail Abramov’s recent work at the Maple Leafs’ development camp and where that puts him headed into the 2021-22 season with the Toronto Marlies.
Third, I’ll pass on insights from a Boston Bruins’ fan about what he thinks of Maple Leafs’ newcomer Nick Ritchie and whether Toronto fans will appreciate him. Finally, I’ll note that the prospects games are starting today in Michigan.
Item One: Just How Respected Is the Maple Leafs’ Jake Muzzin
In a recently-recorded 31 Thoughts: The Podcast, Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman interviewed the Montreal Canadiens’ Tyler Toffoli. One topic that came up was last season’s surprising Canadiens’ Round 1 win over the Maple Leafs during the playoffs.
In that interview, Toffoli pinpointed the very moment he knew his Montreal team would come back to win the series. It was when Maple Leafs’ defenseman Jake Muzzin fell to a groin injury in Game 6. Toffoli said he immediately felt the advantage shift away from the Maple Leafs, who had held a 3-1 series lead.
Specifically, Toffoli noted: “I think Muzz got hurt in Game 6, and I was like, ‘We’re going to Toronto. We’re winning Game 7.’ There’s no doubt in my mind that we’re winning. Because dude plays [20-plus] heavy minutes a night. He’s an incredible defenseman. It’s unfortunate he got hurt, but for us, it’s like, ‘Let’s finish Game 6, go to Toronto and win Game 7.’”
Two things. First, Toffoli scored in both Game 6 and Game 7 of the series to help lead his team. Second, perhaps Toffoli is biased because he and Muzzin shared the history of winning the Stanley Cup together in 2014 when they were both with the Los Angeles Kings.
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Toffoli went on to say that, although the heavily-favored Maple Leafs jumped to a huge series lead, he believed that goalie Carey Price was on his game and that he and his teammates would eventually start scoring. He knew that “Going into the playoffs, everybody had no hope in us — going against Toronto, especially.”
Toffoli’s conversation echoed some of what we hear from the Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner recently about the naysayers.
In the end, Toffoli noted that his Canadiens’ team went much further than anyone imagined. However, at the time, the criticism “was almost never-ending. It would’ve been the cherry on top to win it all and have Pricer and Webby [Shea Weber] win, but that’s the way it was.”
Item Two: Mikhail Abramov Had a Strong Development Camp
Mikhail Abramov had a strong development camp both offensively and defensively, improving as the week went on. The 2019 fourth-round (115th overall) draft choice can score, as everyone knows. He averaged more than a point-a-game over his three seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and potted 35 goals in 63 games with the Victoriaville Tigers in 2019-20. However, the young forward hasn’t yet become an impact player with the Toronto Marlies. He’s hoping this is the season.
During scrimmages at the development camp, Abramov showed some of his high-powered offensive skills. In fact, he scored a great penalty-shot goal on Saturday and generated tons of opportunities five-on-five. What separates Abramov from most other prospects is his strong skating; however, his shot looked strong throughout the camp and he seemed to play with loads of confidence.
As TSN’s Kristen Shilton noted in a recent article, Abramov’s defensive side stood out during camp. She went on to say that it felt like Abramov played bigger than his 6-foot, 185-pounds. He showed off both skill and intelligence and was able to win more than his share of puck battles.
Abramov seems ready to take over a top-six role with the Marlies this season. In another interview, Abramov shared the organization’s expectations for him: “They want to see if I compete, to see me winning the puck. Compete, work hard, show what I can do.” (from “Kallgren’s improvements the past couple seasons should bear fruit in net for Maple Leafs,” Terry Koshan, Toronto Sun, 12/09/21).
Item Three: A Boston Bruins’ Fan Believes Maple Leafs Will Love Nick Ritchie
I’ve often noted how much I appreciate the discussion that THW readers add to my posts. Recently, one reader (who goes by the handle “nor”) noted that Maple Leafs’ fans would grow to love newcomer Nick Ritchie.
Nor suggested that “Ritchie is an Oak tree in front of the net, and is a bar bouncer when shenanigans break out.”
Nor furthered his support of Ritchie by calling him “a contributor in the un-prettiest goal department. I mentioned in the past I am a Bruin fan for a long time, but have a spot in my hockey heart for the Leafs. When Ritchie showed up in Boston my thoughts were negative because He looked slow and cumbersome. (However) he left Boston as a fan favorite and fifth-overall scorer. Can’t believe why on earth Boston let him go for nothing. However, glad he went to the Leafs; and, no joke, I believe if he lands with Marner and Mathews he will be an upgrade over Hyman. He is a diamond in the rough as he can play like a diamond and play rough.”
Nor’s final comment was “You’re lucky to have him.”
As Maple Leafs’ fans, let’s hope “nor” is correct. And, I want to say thanks for the insight.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs’ prospects play the Columbus Blue Jacket’s prospects later today in the team’s first game of the season 2021 Traverse City Schedule. I look forward to hearing more information about how the young players do. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing if Alex Steeves and Nick Robertson can continue the chemistry they showed during the camp.
I’ll share more as I hear more.
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