And you thought the Maple Leafs had no more rookies to debut…
Not so. Defenceman Rinat Valiev, the Leafs’ third-round pick in the 2014 Entry Draft, was called up by the big club yesterday and will make his NHL debut tonight against the Senators in Ottawa. Valiev, 20, has appeared in 54 games for the AHL Marlies this season, scoring three goals and 21 points. We at TLN ranked him the 15th best prospect in the Leafs system (and 4th amongst blueliners) just a couple months ago – that might not sound too good, but remember, this is a very deep and talented prospect pool. Valiev has NHL upside – maybe not as an impact guy or point producer, but it’s there. As it has been with kids who came before him, it will be interesting to see how Valiev fairs in his first taste of the National Hockey League.
Valiev’s addition to the lineup tonight certainly doesn’t add any experience, but this group is still pretty fun to watch. Watching Nikita Soshnikov come into his own on the top line alongside Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov hasn’t gotten old yet, and probably won’t for quite some time. Same goes for William Nylander on the second unit. And you know what? That bottom-six group looks almost… capable. Weird, huh?
Also, here’s a fun fact. The average age of tonight’s Leafs blueline is 22.3 years old. Did I say fun? I meant insane.
If you told me a couple weeks ago that the Leafs were capable of stringing together consecutive wins, I wouldn’t have believed you. Yet, Toronto managed a fairly impressive win over the New York Islanders this past week and… looking at this Ottawa lineup… they might find themselves back in the win column again this evening. A number of key injuries make for a pretty weird looking lineup – J-G Pageau as your top centre, Bobby Ryan on the third line, and… who the hell is Ryan Dzingel?
The Leafs will send out Garret Sparks tonight for his third-straight start in net. While he got the shootout win on Wednesday against the Islanders, Sparks is still looking to bounce back from two consecutive sub-.900 performances before giving way to Jonathan Bernier tomorrow in Detroit. If he wants to keep the crease next week, he’ll need a strong game tonight. At the other end of the ice, fellow Illinois-native Craig Anderson will start for the Senators. He’s sporting a .915 SV%, 2.87 GAA stat line in 53 games this season.
What to Watch For…
- Phaneuf in a Sens jersey is never not going to be weird
- And wait… Mike Kostka? Is Ottawa just recycling old Leafs defencemen!?