On last night’s Insider Trading on TSN, Pierre LeBrun dropped some new knowledge about part time Leaf/ part time Marlie, Nikita Soshnikov…
Nikita Soshnikov, who has yet to appear in a game this season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, instead spending all his time with the Marlies, has a clause in his contract that would allow him to return to the KHL on loan, potentially for the reminder of the season, if he’s not called up by the Maple Leafs by Nov. 14.
That was something that wasn’t really something we’d expect to be dealing with, especially with it already being a challenge to find lineup spots for Josh Leivo and Kasperi Kapanen on the Leafs, and you can make an easy case for both of those players being better than Nikita Soshnikov.
LeBrun went on to add:
“We can all be sure that the Leafs will, in fact, call up Soshnikov before [the deadline so that he doesn’t return to the KHL]. The other point of note here is that he’s three NHL games away from becoming waiver eligible, in terms of going up and down between AHL and NHL. So the Leafs have to call him up. The Leafs have a glut at the forward position, and a lot of teams around the NHL are looking at the Leafs and saying ‘something has to give at some point. They have a lot of depth up front, they need help on defence. Will this lead to a trade at some point?'”
There’s a lot more to unpack here, so we’ll do in a few parts, but the key thing that LeBrun is saying is that the Leafs fully intend to call up Nikita Soshnikov and not loan him to the KHL (essentially ending his time with the Leafs, although allowing them to retain his RFA rights at the end of the year.)
Is it a good idea to bring him up instead of letting him go to the KHL?
My initial reaction was that letting Soshnikov go wouldn’t sink the Leafs by any means and wouldn’t do much more than ensure that Andreas Johnsson gets a look a bit sooner if the Leafs were to suddenly face numerous injuries to their forward group. It would be an asset dissolving into thin air which isn’t a popular thing to do, but it doesn’t force the Leafs to make a roster move that they may not want to make.
By the numbers, Soshnikov hasn’t been a world beater for the Leafs in his 67 games. He’s put up 14 points, 7 of which have been goals, and he averaged around 11 minutes a night last season, primarily playing on the 4th line. If you don’t want to look at fancy stats and point production in your fourth liner (which is fair), you get a player who had 101 hits and could add another option to the penalty kill. I like Soshnikov. I think he has enough speed and skill to be an interesting addition to the bottom six forward group, and I like the fact that he can be seemingly dropped onto any line and find a way to add value. As a potential 13th forward or 4th line winger, something I’d value. Honestly, if he stays or goes I’m comfortable with what the Leafs have decided.
Who gets demoted for him?
It seems like we’re just going to get a brief taste of Freddie Gauthier this week against the Wild and twice against the Bruins. After that Soshnikov is up and is 3 games away from requiring waivers to be sent back down to the Marlies, so the Leafs will be locked with a group of forwards who all require waivers. This isn’t a big deal, since there isn’t anything overly heartbreaking about jettisoning Dominic Moore at some point, nor does this mean that the Leafs can’t loan Soshnikov later if he’s not what the Leafs need. If Gauthier somehow plays himself into a permanent spot in the next three games, it’s a little bit more interesting as it will force the Leafs to make a more interesting decision.
Didn’t LeBrun mention something about trades?
LeBrun needs to sell us on the most interesting option happening as a result of this situation, and that’s that the Leafs make a move freeing up some space on their wing and potentially fixing the Leafs blueline, adding futures, etc. With Gauthier being an easy option to demote, Toronto isn’t in a situation where anything has to be done immediately. While that is boring, that’s the ideal situation for the organization, so while I’m sure they are fielding a lot of calls, they aren’t in danger of being pressured into a rushed deal.
Is Nikita Soshnikov going to be the next Josh Leivo/Frank Corrado?
If anything Nikita Soshnikov is likely to return Josh Leivo to being the next Josh Leivo. There’s little doubt in my mind that Soshnikov plays more of a style of play that Babcock would want to regularly insert into his roster on a regular basis. Leivo and Soshnikov will probably platoon in as players get hurt or when the Leafs have the odd epiphany that Matt Martin doesn’t need to play every game. Right now both Leivo and Soshnikov should be thrilled that Marleau is at center and Dominic Moore is the odd man out.
What would be ideal?
Ideally the Leafs call up Nikita Soshnikov and see what they have with him. Ideally he pans out and they want to keep him or he’s generated some interest around the league and someone else wants to acquire him. In the event the Leafs want to keep him, he’s freed the Leafs up to move another winger, ideally moving them for futures, since that’s generally the best return you’ll get when trading a winger. Those futures can then be flipped to address the Leafs real gaps or can benefit the team somewhere down the road.
End of the day, depth is never a bad thing and the Leafs can accommodate this. Some players you want to see in the lineup might not be there every night and some players who could be Leafs will end up spending more time on the Marlies because of this, but that’s not the end of the world either. This is all pretty manageable and good.