It’s been over two weeks since we last checked in with the Toronto Maple Leafs and their rookies. A lot has changed over the past few weeks with an injury to one of their young players and the emergence of another.
Also during that time, the Maple Leafs played nine games and dealt with a coaching change that saw Mike Babcock removed as head coach and Sheldon Keefe inserted behind the team’s bench.
While a number of players have benefitted from the new coach, the young players have seen increased responsibility in a number of situations. With that in mind, here’s how the Maple Leafs’ rookies have been doing over the last couple of weeks.
28 GP | 4 G | 13 A | 17 P | 4 PIM | +7
It seems as though the talented Russian forward is getting things back on track following a stint of unproductive play on the offensive side of the puck. After going seven games without a point, Ilya Mikheyev has six points in his last six games dating back to Nov. 19 in Vegas.
Along with his improvement in play, Mikheyev has seen an increased role with the absence of both Trevor Moore and Mitch Marner in the lineup. Mikheyev has been slotted in on a line with John Tavares and Zach Hyman which in turn has given him more ice-time under his new head coach.
The increased ice-time has led to more opportunity and the 25-year-old is not letting it go to waste. In fact, the six points in his last six games brings his season total to four goals and 17 points in 28 games for the Maple Leafs – an average of 0.61 points per game which puts him on pace for a 50-point rookie campaign.
His 17 points also has him sitting fourth in the NHL rookie scoring race behind Victor Olofsson (20), Quinn Hughes (23) and Cale Makar (26) – all of whom have had significant time on their team’s power play units. In fact, Mikheyev is the only rookie in the top 15 that doesn’t have a power play point.
While he still has some improving to do in other areas of his game, maybe a spot on the team’s second power play unit is something that Keefe will look at moving forward with Mikheyev – giving the rookie more ice-time and more responsibility as the season goes on.
21 GP | 3 G | 2 A | 5 P | 4 PIM | -1
Moore played just two games since we last checked in, succumbing to a shoulder injury in the Maple Leafs’ Nov. 15 matchup with the Boston Bruins. Moore played just 1:46 in that game before he was forced to leave.
The Maple Leafs placed Moore on LTIR (long-term injury reserve) following the game which means the forward will have to miss at least 10 games or 24 days before he is eligible to return to the lineup.
That said, Moore was in a slump offensively prior to his injury as well. Moore hadn’t tallied a point in 13 straight games, dating all the way back to Oct. 16 when the Maple Leafs visited the Washington Capitals. Moore still sits at five points for the season in 21 games played, but could be rejuvenated when he finally does make his return to the lineup under Keefe. Only time will tell.
19 GP | 2 G | 4 A | 6 P | 6 PIM | +2
With Keefe taking over behind the bench, Timashov had to sit out a couple games before he was able to get back into the lineup as Keefe looked for the right fit in his system. However, he has played four games since we last checked in with the Maple Leafs’ rookies with a goal and assist to show for it.
In fact, Timashov is plus-two over his last four games and played a season-high 12:18 on Nov. 27 against the Detroit Red Wings – a game in which the Maple Leafs won with Timashov tallying an assist.
While the 23-year-old has still had to work hard for his ice-time, playing in a limited role for the Maple Leafs this season, he should thrive under former Marlies’ coach Keefe. He has the speed and physicality to earn himself more ice-time and with that could get more opportunity to showcase some offensive prowess as well.
So far, Timashov has six points through 19 games this season. It’s not bad for the young forward considering what he’s played this year, but he could do better given the opportunity.
6 GP | 1 G | 1 A | 2 P | 0 PIM | +2
With the injury to Moore, the Maple Leafs called up Engvall from the Marlies. A player Keefe is quite familiar with, Engvall stepped into the lineup and made his presence felt in just his second game of the season – the first with Keefe behind the bench.
Engvall saw significant time on the team’s penalty kill – something he did in the AHL with the Marlies as well – and scored his first career NHL goal with the Maple Leafs down a man against the Coyotes on Nov. 21.
Since then, his ice-time has fluctuated with the 23-year-old seeing a season-high 12:42 against the Red Wings on Nov. 27. With no set return date for Moore, Engvall will continue to get some ice-time for the Maple Leafs and should take full advantage of it in hopes of impressing Keefe at the NHL level.
That said, if he does make noise, the Maple Leafs will have some tough decisions to make as the season moves forward.
1 GP | 0-1-0 | 38 SA | 6.00 GAA | 0.842 SV%
Say what you will about Kaskisuo’s first NHL start, but it was clear that the Maple Leafs weren’t playing well in front of him. Blame it on the players. Or blame it on the fact that they had given up on Mike Babcock, but Kaskisuo was hung out to dry in his NHL debut on Nov. 16 against the Penguins.
The 26-year-old goaltender gave up six goals on 38 shots and looked defeated as the night went on.
Following the coaching change and with the Maple Leafs set for another back-to-back against Buffalo this past weekend, the team sent Kaskisuo back to the AHL Marlies and recalled Michael Hutchinson for another start.
Kaskisuo has given up five goals on 55 shots since his return to the AHL with two wins to go along with two starts. While it was a rough one for him in the NHL, his 8-1-1 record, 2.20 goals against average and .924 save percentage certainly aren’t hurting his chances of another call up if the Maple Leafs find themselves in need of a back-up again later this season.
While it can’t all be good news for the Maple Leafs’ rookies, Mikheyev and Engvall are both trending in the right direction, while Timashov and Moore find themselves at a bit of a stand-still for now. That said, there’s still a lot of hockey left to play and anything can happen in the coming months.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.