As the Toronto Maple Leafs prepare to host what promises to be a very different Calgary Flames team coached by the iconic Darryl Sutter tonight, a number of things have been happening around the team. The loss of Jimmy Vesey on waivers to the Vancouver Canucks might make a number of Maple Leafs fans happy – many didn’t see him contributing much to the success of the team, but it leaves a space in the team’s four forward lines to fill. It seems that Alex Galchenyuk might be filling that place in lineup.
As well, young Swedish defenseman Timothy Liljegren has been promoted to the team’s active roster. Could this be an opportunity to give him a chance on the team’s third paring or might he be shopped as part of a trade package? General manager Kyle Dubas did suggest (a) that he was looking for forward help coming into the April 12 trade deadline and (b) that he was willing to trade a good prospect to improve the team. There are rumors that Liljegren might be that prospect.
The Maple Leafs take a 3-1-0 record against the Flames into the game tonight; however, as I say, the Flames – except for the trouncing at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday – look like a different team since Sutter took over as coach March 4. They play at a faster pace and seem more determined in the games I’ve watched.
In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at some of the changes headed into the game tonight.
Item One: Timothy Liljegren Is on the Team’s Active Roster
On Wednesday, Timothy Liljegren was put on the active roster. He hasn’t yet made his season’s NHL debut, and he might not play tonight. It’s often tough these days to tell what’s a move on paper and what means that a young player will be part of the lineup for an upcoming game.
More interesting perhaps is this move in the light of Dubas’ announcement that he would be willing to trade a top prospect to bring in a “piece” that he believes might help put his team over the top. (I put quotation marks around the word “piece” because as I write this post it strikes me that we so often treat young players as things instead of people – but that’s another post one day).
Interestingly, Liljegren is one such piece. The others that I see include Nick Robertson, recently-drafted Rodion Amirov, and defenseman Rasmus Sandin. As for the 21-year-old Liljegren, he’s been in the Maple Leafs’ organization for a while now but he’s still young. And, more to the point, he’s getting better and he might be seen by another team to have an up-side. He’s scored a goal and added six assists with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies this season.
The word is that Liljegren looks ready for prime time. He’s been quite steady on the defensive end and is working to add that offensive aspect that will make him truly a two-way defenseman. Plus, he eats up minutes and has averaged more than 22 minutes per game with the Marlies. All this to say that a team might find him very attractive at the trade deadline to move a “rental” the Maple Leafs’ way.
Item Two: The Fate of Alex Galchenyuk
Most call-ups from the Marlies hit the taxi squad and then wonder if they’ll play or sit the game out. It looks as if it might be different for Alex Galchenyuk. With Liljegren and Alexander Barabanov, Galchenyuk was reassigned to the Maple Leafs’ taxi squad on Wednesday.
Then, in a quick move up the ladder, during Wednesday’s practice Galchenyuk moved straight from the Marlies to the team’s second line with William Nylander and John Tavares. That’s quite a jump for Galchenyuk and the questions for Friday’s game and after are “Will he start on the team’s second line?” and “Will he stay that high in the lineup?”
Hockey insider Chris Johnston noted that he’s found it interesting that Sheldon Keefe says the team still sees Galchenyuk as a player who can produce offence, who can make plays, and who can score goals. Reports suggest that Galchenyuk’s taken his opportunity at redemption with the Maple Leafs seriously and has been a hard worker in the AHL.
Galchenyuk has played well with the Marlies and the Maple Leafs have to hope he’s started to regain his mojo that has taken a beating over the past few seasons. It’s obviously that putting Galchenyuk with Tavares and Nylander is a plan to push him back into the offensive-contributor column. If that’s possible, the team would have another useful weapon.
Here is how the forward lines look as a result after practice on Wednesday:
Item Three: Jack Campbell Looks Ready to Rumble
Jack Campbell’s lower-body injury seems to be healed enough that he’ll be ready to play a game on Saturday. Campbell hasn’t played since Feb. 27 because of his lingering injury.
After Wednesday’s practice, when coach Keefe was asked if Campbell would be ready to play on Saturday, he reported “It’s really looking that way. We’re trending in the direction of him being ready to play this weekend.”
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
I’m a sap for a reclamation project like Galchenyuk (as I was for Vesey). I’m hoping to see him play with a couple of strong offensive player just to see how he’ll do. All season, coach Keefe has tried to find that sixth top-six player.
Certainly, Zach Hyman can do the job; but, to me, he’s looked awesome having and leading his own line. I’m looking forward to how the new line combinations do this weekend.