In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll share information from a recent interview with prospect Alex Steeves about why he signed with the team. I’ll also comment about the role that Martin Marincin played with the team over several seasons and speculate if one of the recently-signed defenseman will jump in to handle that job.
Finally, I’ll offer Nick Robertson the Birthday wish of an injury-free season, wherever he plays. His 20th birthday was yesterday.
Item One: Alex Steeves Is Thoroughly Impressed with Team’s Vision for Him
In an interview late last week after a session of the Maple Leafs’ development camp, Alex Steeves talked about why he chose to sign with the Maple Leafs and not another team. His comment was simple: “I was just thoroughly impressed with the organization’s vision for me.”
Last March the Maple Leafs signed Steeves to a three-year, entry-level contract to begin this season. The un-drafted 21-year old forward played in 29 games for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (NCAA). In those games, he scored 32 points (15 goals and 17 assists). He ranked 10th in NCAA scoring among NCAA skaters and earned a place on the Second All-Star Team.
No surprise for someone who’s really intelligent and is pursuing a degree in business from a prestigious Big Ten University like Notre Dame, Steeves was impressed with the organization’s attention to detail. He also appreciated the holistic approach that he’d seen in his time speaking with others in the organization. He noted that, from the “moment I met with Kyle,” they began by showing him video about the one-on-one instruction they were engaging during the offseason with Auston Matthews “who’s probably the best scorer of the world.” Steeves valued “the way they are breaking down specifics.”
The coaching staff also showed him clips they had watched of him during his time with Notre Dame. When the people in the organization spoke about what his play, he was “just so thoroughly impressed with their vision for me as a player and (how much) their vision as an organization … aligned with the style I wanted to play.”
The interview above is longer and some parts are tough to understand (like the media’s questions), but it’s quite an impressive look at the young forward and worth watching.
Item Two: Will Alex Biega or Carl Dahlstrom Become this Season’s Martin Marincin?
Martin Marincin always sort of skated under the radar. Although he played 227 NHL games, over the past few seasons he only showed up when the team was in dire need of someone they could trust to give them solid – if not very exciting -minutes. In other words, he wasn’t going to set the world on fire, but he wasn’t going to fall on his face, either.
When the 6-foot-5, 217 pound, 29-year-old Marincin returned to Europe to play with HC Ocelari Trinec of the Czech Extraliga, it marked the end of his NHL tenure. He didn’t see any action during the 2020-21 season with the Maple Leafs and probably wanted more playing time.
When the Maple Leafs signed veteran defensemen Alex Biega and Carl Dahlström to one-year, two-way, league-minimum contracts on July 28, I had to think they were looking for one or the other to become this season’s Marincin.
Both Biega and Dahlstrom are solid-enough defensemen. The 33-year-old Biega played 13 regular-season games with the Detroit Red Wings during the 2020-21 season and has played 241 games in his NHL career. Dahlstrom’s body of work is shorter, playing only 64 NHL games. However, he’s 6-foot-4 and 231 pounds. The point is that neither will trip over their own skates and can move up and down from the Toronto Marlies to be thrown into the mix quickly – as needed.
Interestingly, Dahlstrom and Marincin are about the same size, but neither is known for being a physical defenseman. On the other hand, Biega can provide some of the physicality the team lost with Bogosian leaving; but, he’s much shorter.
Neither of these two defensemen will likely make the team out of the training camp, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be valuable to the organization. It seems every NHL team needs someone waiting in the wings who can provide that solid (if uninspiring) play. Here’s thinking Biega and Dahlstrom might be those players this season.
Item Three: Wishing an Injury-Free Season for Nick Robertson
Yesterday was Nick Robertson’s birthday. He was born exactly on the same day as 9/11 and, as a three-month premature baby, he fought for his life. Because his lungs weren’t developed, he had to have a shot of oxygen to his brain. Three times the doctors tried without success. A final fourth shot, which either would save his life or kill him, worked.
Perhaps that experience exemplifies the hard working, fight-for-every-inch mentality this youngster engages on the ice. It’s what endears him to me as a player, and why I believe Maple Leafs’ fans will come to love him over the years.
It’s also could be a problem if, as player development leader Hayley Wickenheiser noted, Robertson doesn’t learn to “dial it back” a bit and let the game come to him. I’m not sure where Robertson will end up this season, but my bet is that he’ll start with the Marlies.
Wherever he lands, however, one thing I hope for him is a season free of injuries. Last season he suffered a knee injury in January and then a concussion late in the season. Both cost him the chance to join the Maple Leafs during the playoffs. They obviously could have used him. The 20-year-old (as of yesterday) Robertson is trying to impress the Maple Leafs’ player development group and coaches. (from “Maple Leafs rookie Nick Robertson was born on 9/11. Birthdays have never been the same,” Kevin McGran, Toronto Star, 10/09/21).
I’m quite sure he’ll do that. But the big question is about learning to control his fighting spirit and push-ahead-fast tendencies. There’s likely a middle ground between where he is now and where he needs to go as a player. I hope he finds it during an injury-free 2021-22 season – wherever that might be.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
There are some key questions looming as the Maple Leafs head into the 2021-22 regular season. For me, it will be fun to see what emerges with the left-wing options on the first two lines. I’m also interested in whether Jack Campbell can have as good a season in 2021-22 as he did last season. How will he handle adversity if it comes?
Finally, I’m anxious to see which of the two young Swedish defensemen – Rasmus Sandin or Timothy Liljegren – emerges as a key with the system. Perhaps there’s a place for both. Whatever happens, I’m excited once again to see this team play other teams in the Atlantic Division.
I have to say that, although I loved the Canadian North Division last season, because I root for all the Canadian teams it was hard not to want every team to play well. This season, when the Boston Bruins are the opponent, it will be much easier.