The Toronto Marlies know that Trevor Moore isn’t going to be around much longer.
“He’s the next one,” veteran forward Chris Mueller said when asked about Moore being on the brink of being an NHL regular. “He’s so skilled, so fast and he’s got a great attitude and wants to work and wants to get there. When you put all those things together—the sky’s the limit for a kid like that.”
It’s not hard to pick out an NHL-calibre player from a crowd of AHL bodies. Just like previous Marlies graduates Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen did in the back-half of their AHL tenures, Moore, who has 19 goals and 27 points in 33 games this season, has hit the point in his career where he’s proven that he’s simply too good for the AHL.
“This isn’t just a this year thing,” Mueller explained. “Last year, he was a huge player [for us] during the playoffs.”
To say Moore was ‘huge’ during last years playoffs, may even be an understatement.
In 20 playoff games, Moore recorded 17 points while driving a dominant trio alongside Adam Brooks and Mason Marchment that was instrumental to the Marlies attack. He was the 2017-2018 Marlies’ spark plug.
He carried forward that momentum into this season, raising eyebrows at Leafs training camp this past fall. His showing at training camp earned him a shot to play alongside John Tavares and Mitch Marner in a pre-season tilt.
“Moorsey showed in [Leafs training camp] that he’s definitely capable of playing at that next level,” Brooks said.
And his evolvement through the 2018 calendar year has lead to Moore being basically an automatic recall to the Leafs, in wake of an injury. When Johnsson left Sundays game against the Coyotes with a concussion, Mike Babcock was quick to point out that the Leafs “will have to get Moore in,” as a replacement.
To date, Moore has been recalled on three separate occasions. He’s suited up for seven games with the Leafs this season and recorded his first career NHL goal, and two helpers, in the process.
Despite averaging less than 8:50 minutes of ice-time a game with the Leafs, Moore’s been able to make an immediate impact in the Leafs bottom six, when called upon. For AHL stars on the brink of full-time employment in the NHL, the first few games can be a whirlwind. But that hasn’t been the case with Moore.
“I felt like, after things settled and you kinda calmed down a bit, you realize it’s just hockey,” Moore told The Leafs Nation. “There’s better players, but it’s still the same game.”
The same game, that is, as the one that Sheldon Keefe and his staff have been grooming him to play. Since the 23-year-old forward arrived in Toronto’s system three years ago, the Maple Leafs development staff have made a concentrated effort to make Moore a versatile player, striving to equip him for the big leagues.
“[In the AHL] you end up just being part of a large group of players and you need to separate yourself,” Keefe explained.
Fast forward to the present day and Moore, who inked a two-year pact with the Leafs just over a week ago, has undoubtedly separated himself amongst the plethora of skilled forwards in the organization.
First off, Moore found ways to use his speed and puck pursuit to morph into a responsible two-way forward.
He’s evolved into the Marlies most trusted defensive forward and Keefe even put him on the backend for a couple shifts when the team was left with four defenceman in a late December tilt against the Laval Rocket.
His progressions defensively can also be seen on the Marlies penalty kill, which Moore is the staple of. Moore’s speed and two-way instincts have made for plenty of 4-on-5 chances for the Marlies, recording three short-handed points (a goal and two primary assists) while shorthanded this season.
It’s not always easy to get a player to buy-in to committing to the defensive side of the game.
“For any young player that comes into the pro level, [defence] is usually the area that needs the most work and most attention,” said Keefe.
Then there’s the style of play he plays offensively.
When Moore was recording nearly a point-per-game during the AHL playoffs, he was doing so on the teams fourth line, alongside Brooks and Mason Marchment. They played a simple, yet effective game that was very cycle-heavy.
“[We won] a championship with that line being really really important and it’s because of how they played,” said Keefe. “When he went up [to the Leafs], I think he had that same type of mindset.”
He may measure out at 5’10, but that doesn’t mean that Moore shies away from the nitty gritty areas of the game. He’s a puck hound. He’s relentless on pucks and he excels at keeping the puck in the attacking end. Couple that with excellent stick handling (especially in tight spaces), and you’ve got yourself a possession goldmine in your bottom six.
“When you go up [to the Leafs], you’re on the fourth line. You can’t take too many risks,” Marchment said.” It’s more, get [the puck] in and get on the forecheck. Which is kind of what we try to do here.”
Moore’s ability to refine his all-around game is his ticket to the NHL. His offensive prowess may, or may not translate to the big leagues, only time will tell. But in the interim, the question lies, what can Moore do to help the Maple Leafs win games right now?
Well, he can keep the puck in the offensive zone, kill penalties and be trusted in key situations. And if you factor in his skillset, there’s potential for him to move up the depth chart, down the line.
“He can play in a lot of different roles,” said Murray Kuntz of International Hockey Group, who represents Moore. “He can be a very tenacious checker with his speed and his aggressive style, in terms of puck pursuit. You want him to play a skill game? He’s also got that in his arsenal.”
With Moore adding so many layers to his game, he’s evolved into a Swiss-army knife, of sorts. And his odds of becoming an NHL regular have increased because of that.
“He’s going to get [a spot] with the Leafs. If not this year, definitely next year,” said Brooks. “I think when that opportunity comes knocking, he’s going to take full advantage [of it] like he has here.”