Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors: Tavares, Villeneuve, Woll & Scott

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll report the good news that John Tavares had a successful return to the ice for the team’s first preseason game. After last season’s playoff injury, to see him back and playing well was exciting.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Matthews, Amazon Prime & Dubas’ Anger

I’ll also talk about William Villeneuve, a young offensive-minded defenseman, who the team signed to an entry-level contract. Finally I’ll talk about an aspect of the organization’s bad luck, and that’s with its young goalie prospects. Yesterday was not a good day, as both Joseph Woll and Ian Scott went down to injury.

Item One: John Tavares Scored the Game-Winning Goal Against the Canadiens

Perhaps appropriately, after he was sent to his offseason early after playing less than three minutes of Game 1 of the 2020-21 postseason, John Tavares scored the game-winning goal during Saturday’s 4-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens. I know it was preseason, but it was great to see the Maple Leafs’ captain back playing well.

Tavares scored just under two minutes into the second period. His goal came on the power play and put the Maple Leafs up 2-0. It was just like the old Tavares, who used his great hand-eye coordination to tip-in a William Nylander shot. Nylander’s primary assist on the goal was his second assist of the night. 

Toronto Maple Leafs John Tavares
Toronto Maple Leafs centre John Tavares (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

Last season Tavares racked up 19 goals and 31 assists (for 50 points) in 56 games played. He looked fully-healed and as skilled as ever. He also looked at home with his two young line partners Josh Ho-Sang and Michael Bunting. That group was quick on the puck and played faster than the Canadiens all game, especially right off the start of the game. They had Montreal on their heels.

Related: The NHL’s Top 100 Prospects – Preseason Rankings

During the post-game interviews, Taveres was also his old self. When he was asked about Kurtis Gabriel’s night and what his early impressions were, Tavares noted that he was happy for “KG,” who was “pretty fired up” about his goal. Then Tavares went on to spin Gabriel by complimenting how much he puts in everyday, how much he loves to compete, how hard he works, the pride he takes in his preparation, the intensity he brings, and how badly he wants to make a difference. Tavares is right: Gabriel adds an element to the Maple Leafs’ roster than hasn’t been there in a while.

In summary, the two young players looked good on Tavares’ wings. It made me think that Tavares could have a much more central role this season than last.

Item Two: William Villeneuve Signs Three-Year Entry-Level Contract

William Villeneuve, the 19-year-old, right-shot defenseman the Maple Leafs drafted in the fourth round (122nd) overall of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft,  has signed a three-year, entry-level contract. Although the young defenseman scored only three goals and 17 assists (for 20 points) in 33 games in the QMJHL last season, that’s not an indication of his offensive potential. 

Related: 3 Takeaways From Maple Leafs’ Preseason Opener

For example, the previous season, Villeneuve had a career high nine goals and  49 assists (for 58 points) with the Saint John Sea Dogs. That season, he led all QMJHL defenseman in assists and points and made the QMJHL Second All-Star Team. Over his three-season QMJHL career, Villeneuve had 13 goals and  84 assists (for 97 points) in 152 games. The three-year contract shows the Maple Leafs think highly of the young defenseman and want him to stay within the organization.

Item Three: Maple Leafs Are Having No Luck with Their Young Goalies

Just prior to the team’s first preseason game, Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe reported that goalie prospect Joseph Woll had been injured in practice on Friday and was day-to-day with his injury. As a result, Ian Scott stepped into Woll’s place for the game. 

Then, during the game, Scott re-injured his groin and had to leave the game. Talk about bad luck. Sadly, that seems so typical about Scott. He’s had nothing but bad luck with injuries and surgeries. 

After the game, coach Keefe noted that “Unfortunately, it looks like he is going to miss some time here. He has injured his groin again. It is a tough situation for him.”

Keefe added that, “Obviously, he (Scott) has worked his way back here. Coming off of a strong rookie tournament, he was feeling good and certainly good enough to play here today.” 

Team Canada and Toronto Maple Leafs prospect goaltender Ian Scott
Team Canada and Toronto Maple Leafs prospect goaltender Ian Scott (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)

Keefe commented about Scott’s game, “He made a tremendous save to start that third period. The guys kind of jumped out of their seats a little bit at how good that save was on an elite player. Shortly thereafter, he injured himself. Tough news for him and tough news for us. He has done nothing but continue to work hard. You feel for him in this situation, but he’ll get back to work and work his way back.”

What’s Next with the Maple Leafs?

There was a lot to talk about the first preseason game. I read a post earlier this morning, and the writer was saying that few people were looking forward to Maple Leafs’ preseason games. Perhaps that’s true for him; however, I was excited to watch the game.

A number of things caught my interest. First, Tavares’ return to the ice after his horrific injury was exciting. Second, it was great to see fans in the stands for the first time in years. Third, I was interested in watching the team’s new players. Specifically, I enjoyed watching Tavares carry a line with his two young (non-star) partners. That line looked really good. 

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I know there’s a game Monday evening, which should generate almost just as much interest. I’m interested in watching more newcomers. I, for one, am excited by the upcoming season and its possibilities. Preseason or not, it’s good to have games to watch.

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