For the past few years, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ stance on prospects has been to take their time with developing players so that they aren’t rushed into the NHL before being ready. The Leafs have been taking their time with developing Travis Dermott so that when he does enter the NHL, he’s prepared for the demands of an NHL defenseman and can make an impactful difference to the lineup.
On Saturday, Dermott made his NHL debut two years after being drafted by the Leafs at 34th overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. And, after watching his first two games, it’s clear that he’s too good to go back to the Toronto Marlies of the AHL. He’s ready for the NHL.
Dermott’s Short Road to the NHL
By making his NHL debut, Dermott became the 12th player from the second round of the 2015 draft to have played an NHL game, and his road to the NHL has been relatively short for a player drafted outside of the first round.
Dermott returned to juniors after being drafted and, on a star-studded Erie Otters team, led Erie defensemen in points with 43 points in 51 games and was seventh in team scoring. The next season, Dermott joined the Marlies in the AHL and immediately became a core piece of their defense. Dermott finished the season with 24 points in 59 games and was second in scoring by Marlies’ defensemen, only behind fellow 2015 draftee Andrew Nielsen.
Although Dermott isn’t exactly a high scoring defenseman, he’s stood out as being a well-rounded blueliner. Just this season, there was talk that he would be good enough to make the Leafs starting roster out of training camp. Ultimately, it was Andreas Borgman who managed to win the left spot on the Leafs bottom defensive pairing, which forced Dermott back to the AHL.
In 26 games, Dermott leads Marlies defensemen with 17 points and has once again improved. He’s been the Marlies best defenseman at both ends of the ice and he gave Leafs’ coach Mike Babcock no choice but to give Dermott a chance in the NHL.
Dermott Is Just What the Leafs Need
In Dermott’s debut against the Vancouver Canucks, the difference he made for the Leafs defense was immediate. One of the Leafs’ ongoing problems this season has been finding a good pair for the bottom defensive pairing. So far this season it has been a mix of Borgman on the left and either Connor Carrick or Roman Polak on the right.
Carrick has really struggled this season to the point that he was scratched in place of Polak and has only gotten back into the lineup because of an injury to Nikita Zaitsev. So, with Borgman and Polak as a pairing, the issue becomes their lack of mobility with the puck. In comes Dermott.
Dermott was paired with Polak against the Canucks, and it transformed the Leafs defense. The Leafs are built to be a fast puck-moving team with great skaters like Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner on the backend and a number of speedy wingers up front.
By having Dermott paired with Polak, it gives the Leafs three lines of defense with a player who can outmaneuver opponents defensively and rush the puck up to the offensive zone. Dermott’s play in his debut was rewarded with an assist, giving him his first NHL point.
Babcock on Dermott: "In an ideal world he would have been a right hand shot and been on the team all year."
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) January 8, 2018
In Dermott’s second game, he split time between being paired with Polak and playing on the right with Gardiner. Even though he played well with Gardiner, the Leafs are better off with Dermott being paired with Polak. Polak’s lack of foot speed will always put that pairing at a disadvantage, especially if Polak is playing with a player like Borgman who isn’t much faster.
With Dermott in the lineup, the Leafs don’t have to worry about putting their bottom defensive pairing out against faster opponents like they have in the past. Dermott can’t go back to the AHL as he’s shown that he’s ready for the NHL and has rounded out the Leafs defense to give them three pairings with a fast puck-moving defenseman.