As Sportsnet 590 the Fan reporter David Alter mentioned on the Steve Dangle Podcast last week, it looks like the Leafs will be getting defenceman Mark Fraser back from a knee injury for Friday’s game against the New Jersey Devils.
Will he actually play? That doesn’t seem like it’s written in stone.
Mark Fraser says he is ready to play, says at this point it is now a coach’s decision. #Leafs
— David Alter (@DavidAlter590) November 6, 2013
If Randy Carlyle does decide that Fraser will play in his first game since October 2nd against Philadelphia, somebody will need to come out. Well, that, or one of the current defencemen need to learn how to play centre.
The logical choices from either a political standpoint, performance standpoint, or both, seems to be one of Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, or Paul Ranger.
Rielly is a teenaged rookie who was a healthy scratch prior to Fraser’s injury. He’s also averaging the least amount of ice time among Leafs defenceman with an average of 17:49 per game.
Jake Gardiner wasn’t always in Carlyle’s good books last season, but so far in 2013-14 he is averaging just under 20 minutes per game and has logged over 20 minutes of ice time in five of his last six games. In fact, Gardiner is third in average ice time among Leafs defenders behind Dion Phaneuf and Cody Franson. It doesn’t seem to make much sense to take a guy like that out of your lineup.
Paul Ranger, the oldest of the trio, seems to be showing signs of the offensively gifted blueliner fans were hoping for, but his defensive lapses are still a big issue. If the comments on this site or on Twitter are any indication, Ranger is the guy fans would like to see have a breather. Because of politics and optics however, you never know.
If I may offer an off-the-board pick: Carl Gunnarsson. I’ve always been a huge believer in Gunnarsson. I think he’s a very underrated player, and he’s the perfect guy, at least within this roster, to complement Dion Phaneuf’s style. That being said, he’s currently last among Leafs D in average even strength time on ice (15:23), and has played just 57 seconds of powerplay time all season. He’s also got just one point in 15 games. His play hasn’t been particularly great so far this season, but he averages the second-highest amount of short-handed ice time among Toronto defenceman (3:51), so he obviously still serves a very important purpose.
The other factor here is that if Fraser returns on Friday, will he still be in the lineup on Saturday in Boston against to Bruins?
Lots of questions. What say you?