The Toronto Maple Leafs have called up six players from the minors to help fill the spots left vacant after the NHL trade deadline and Nikita Soshnikov has managed to impress the most. Soshnikov has seemingly come out of nowhere, going from playing a defensive third line role with the Toronto Marlies to getting called up and getting to play for the Maple Leafs. After the 6 games he’s played so far, Nikita Soshnikov clearly deserves to stay with the Maple Leafs for the rest of the season.
Nikita Soshnikov’s Competition
All the praise that’s been heaped upon Soshnikov might not seem like a lot until you list the other players that were called up with him: William Nylander, Zach Hyman, Kasperi Kapanen, Connor Carrick, and Brendan Leipsic. When they were all called up William Nylander had the most hype surrounding him, which makes sense as a former 8th overall 2014 draft pick with 45 points in 37 games with the Toronto Marlies this season. So far Nylander has 2 goals in 6 games, which is impressive as a 19-year-old rookie.
Both Hyman and Leipsic have also managed to contribute in their short time with the Leafs. Hyman has put up 33 points in 54 games with the Marlies and has 2 goals with the Leafs. Leipsic has done even better with 41 points in 52 games with the Marlies and 3 points with the Leafs. Connor Carrick, who was acquired in the Daniel Winnik trade with the Washington Capitals, has been a fantastic defenseman so far with the Leafs. Despite all of those players, Soshnikov has stood-out and impressed everyone.
Why Nikita Soshnikov Should Stay
In Soshnikov’s first 6 games with the Leafs, he has put up 2 goals, an assist, and a shootout winning goal. Not only has Soshnikov impressed the most, but he also looks the most ready for the NHL. If seeing is believing, then just look at his first career NHL goal.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) March 3, 2016
Soshnikov’s second NHL goal was much like his first, a fantastic wrist-shot going top shelf and a shot like that is an NHL level shot. Even without his shooting ability he still brings a lot positive aspects as a player, with his strong skating and ability to hold onto the puck at the NHL level. This is surprising considering most rookies are easily pushed off the puck because they haven’t put enough muscle or weight on yet. Soshnikov has been the exception. He also brings some much-needed grit to the Maple Leafs by playing a Leo Komarov style of hockey, consisting of a fast paced physical game that also involves being a pest to the opposing team.
Asked to describe his style, Soshnikov answers in English: "To get some skin (smiles)"
Valiev corrects Nikita: "Get under somebody's skin"
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) March 11, 2016
Now there is the argument that Soshnikov would be better off staying in the AHL to develop his game further and help the Marlies make a deep playoff run. This would certainly apply to Nylander, but not Soshnikov. In the 50 games he played with the Marlies this season he had just 28 points. He wasn’t even playing top minutes with the Marlies because of how many skilled players are on the team. Meanwhile with the Maple Leafs, Soshnikov has been playing on the top line with Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov.
The Toronto Marlies will be fine without Soshnikov and they’ve been fine without all the other players the Maple Leafs called up. On Friday, the Marlies crushed the Portland Pirates in a 9-2 win and that was without Soshnikov and Nylander.
Babcock: "Hyman and Sosh are here to stay. They are just too good and too hard and too fast and too much work ethic." #Leafs
— Terry Koshan (@koshtorontosun) March 10, 2016
Soshnikov has shown that he can play in the NHL and be a difference maker every game for the Maple Leafs, which has caused coach Mike Babcock to take notice. Babcock is a coach that always wants to win, even though the Leafs are at the bottom of the standings and are eager to have a top five pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. So it shouldn’t be surprising that he wants to keep Soshnikov with the Leafs until the end of the season.
Keeping Soshnikov with the Leafs for the rest of the season is the best choice because it gives him NHL experience and gives fans a player to get excited about. This also allows Soshnikov to go back to the Marlies after the Leafs’ season ends on April 9th, while the Marlies last game is on April 17th. Then he can be part of the team heading into the playoffs.
Nikita Soshnikov has had an interesting road to the NHL from his hometown of Nizhny Tagil in Russia, and in that time he has wowed fans with his skill and goal-scoring flair and it looks like he will be a core part of the Toronto Maple Leafs going forward.
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Toronto Maple Leafs contributor for The Hockey Writers.
I’ve been a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs since I was a kid and have always had an interest in writing. At The Hockey Writers, I get to enjoy both of my passions as well as writing about small convoluted details in player contracts and stats.