Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY SPORTS
The Toronto Maple Leafs have made one more change to their shuffled lineup ahead of tonight’s game against the St. Louis Blues, sending centre Frederik Gauthier to the Toronto Marlies, according to the AHL’s transaction sheet. In his place, Ben Smith is expected to return to the lineup.
Gauthier heads down to the Marlies after playing eighteen games with the Maple Leafs. In that stretch, which began in mid-December, the 21-year-old picked up two goals, an assist, twelve shots on goal, thirteen hits, fourteen blocked shots, and 21 penalty minutes. Gauthier played an average of 9:39 a game of ice time over his month and a half, with usage on the penalty kill as part of the equation. He was also a little over 51% on the faceoff dot, a trait that Mike Babcock values deeply in his fourth centres.
On the fancier side of the game, Gauthier averaged 1.2 points in every 60 minutes played at even strength, 9th among 13 regular Leafs forwards this year. His relative Corsi-For percentage sits at -4.6%, 12 in that group 13, though it had started to climb over the past couple of weeks.
Ben Smith will fall back into his regular position as a result of this move. The 28-year-old was sidelined by an upper-body injury that, combined with a brief disappearance of Tyler Bozak, led to a temporary call up of Byron Froese and the aforementioned Gauthier. Smith’s production is identical to Gauthier’s in goals and assists (2+1), but he’s required two extra minutes a night and six extra games to reach that mark. Smith is Toronto’s worst regular forward at rate production (0.70 points/60) and relative possession (-5.9%), but has won 53.2% of his faceoffs and, thanks to 0.943 goaltending while he’s on the ice, is the Leafs centre least likely to give up a goal on a given shift. He’s also the least likely to be on for a goal for by a significant margin, making him a net negative in that regard overall.
Thing I made just out of curiosity: How Leafs who play at least 10 minutes with Ben Smith do with or without him (Smith’s CF%: 43.3) pic.twitter.com/Qm4HCEcX7d
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) December 16, 2016
The quick look at this move is tricky. I firmly believe that Smith is the weaker link and a detriment to the Leafs’ chances at success, but I also feel like more time with the Marlies is more beneficial to Gauthier. Ideally, the team will move towards having neither in the lineup, but in the meantime, the vet gets the edge. Smith will likely draw in tonight against the Blues, while Gauthier’s next game will probably come with the Marlies on Saturday.