In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs news and rumors, I want to help fans keep up to date with what stories are emerging from the team.
There’s a lot happening, with Nick Robertson’s play at the 2020 World Junior Championships in the Czech Republic, John Tavares being named as an NHL weekly star, some trade rumors, and a number of player movements.
It’s been a busy few days.
Item One: Robertson Leading Team USA at the WJC
It’s pretty clear, from the amount of ice time he gets, that team USA’s coach Scott Sandelin likes Maple Leafs prospect Nick Robertson. But Sandelin also outlined other reasons why he believes Robertson is a good young player.
Specifically, Sandelin says, “He’s a dog on the puck. He competes hard. He’s got good offensive skill. He’s been doing it since we’ve got together (in the summer). Those are players who set a great example for the team.”
Robertson has also been successful on the ice during the tournament. He assisted Ottawa Senators’ prospect Shane Pinto on the power play for the opening goal in an overtime victory against the Czech National team on Monday and now has scored two goals and five points in the four games he’s played.
Robertson wants to “play a top role” but he’s willing to do it on the team’s terms. He suggests, “It’s whatever the coach wants, and I was fortunate to get some ice. Hopefully, get some more.”
One difference Robertson sees in this tournament against playing for the Peterborough Petes is that the play is called tighter. He notes, “(The rules) are kind of different. They’re more strict here.” He also noted, “A simple bump, a simple stick, you have to change your style of your game.”
Robertson’s a physical player himself. In 22 games with the Petes this season, he’s had 25 penalty minutes. He’s also scored more than a goal per game, with 23 goals and 12 assists for 35 points.
Robertson believes winning the tournament depends upon the success of the power play, “This is a tournament where teams can capitalize on the power play. The less penalty kill, the better.”
He also notes, “When we’re a disciplined team, we’re one of the best teams here. We’re getting better as a group on and off the ice and hopefully, it carries out the rest of the tournament.” Good luck with that, the U.S. is among the most penalized teams in the tournament. (from “Maple Leafs’ Nick Robertson earning his stripes as a star of the U.S. squad,” Ryan Pyette, Toronto Sun, 12/30/19)
Item Two: Tavares Named One of the NHL 3 Stars of the Week
With Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman) and Jordan Binnington (St. Louis Blues goaltender), Maple Leafs center John Tavares was named one of the NHL’s three stars of the week.
Hedman had eight points (two goals, six assists) in three games to lead the NHL in weekly scoring and move the Lightning’s record to 3-0-0 for the week. Binnington won three games and posted a 1.96 goals-against average and .929 save percentage, and the Western Conference-leading Blues winning streak moved to eight games. And Tavares was second in the NHL with seven points (two goals, five assists) in three games, and the Maple Leafs took five of a possible six points (2-0-1) during the week.
Item Three: Will the Maple Leafs Trade Their Prospects?
With the team’s bad injury news — defenseman Jake Muzzin is listed as week-to-week with a broken foot and Ilya Mikheyev will likely miss the season with a deep cut to his wrist — will the Maple Leafs be forced to make changes to the team’s lineup? Personally, I hope they don’t; however, on a Hockey Night in Canada broadcast, that’s what hockey insider Elliotte Friedman suggested might happen.
He notes that the Maple Leafs’ desire to maintain their current roster has forced them to move three prospects to the trade block. Those prospects include Jeremy Bracco (chosen 61st overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft), Dmytro Timashov (chosen 125th overall in 2015), and Ben Harpur (chosen 108th overall by the Ottawa Senators in 2013).
Specifically, Friedman believed, “One of the things they’re kind of looking at right now is they are testing the value of one of their prospects; a pretty fascinating player in Jeremy Bracco.”
Bracco has been called up this season but hasn’t played with the big club. I’m hoping he won’t be traded because I’ve been looking forward to seeing him in the NHL. However, the team might be shopping him so it can shore up other areas.
Bracco was second in the AHL in scoring last season, but “his route to the NHL is kind of blocked by a lot of great players,” Friedman admitted. The Maple Leafs might not move him, but general manager Kyle Dubas seems willing to test his market value.
“I think there is some interest,” Friedman noted.
Item Four: Liljegren and Kivihalme Flip Spots
For Timothy Liljegren, it was a quick trip. After being with the Maple Leafs for less than six hours, he was returned to the Marlies. Taking his place with the Maple Leafs was 24-year-old Teemu Kivihalme.
Kivihalme will be available for the Dec. 31 road game against the Minnesota Wild, with Liljegren now skating with the Marlies. Kivihalme has scored seven points in 28 AHL games this season, but the 24-year-old hasn’t played in the NHL yet. He’ll not likely get the chance against the Wild, with eight healthy defensemen on the team’s roster. Unless there’s an injury, Kivihalme is in the press box.
The 20-year-old Liljegren manned the press box during each of his previous four times on the big club’s roster and, like Kivihalme, hasn’t made his NHL debut. With the Marlies, Liljegren’s scored three goals and 14 assists in 27 games.
Item Five: Agostino also Returned to the Marlies
The Maple Leafs re-loaned Kenny Agostino to its AHL affiliate. Agostino was called up this past weekend as a depth forward but didn’t suit up. He’s back in the minors where he’s had a great season, scoring 26 points in 26 games.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs play the Wild on New Years’ Eve, then play every other day over the next week and a half. After playing in Winnipeg on Jan. 2, they return home for three games. They play the New York Islanders on Jan. 4, the Edmonton Oilers on Jan. 6, and the Winnipeg Jets on the Jan. 8.
The team’s five-game winning streak was broken, although they got one point against the Rangers. Should they do well over the next four games, they’ll start to cement themselves into a playoff position.