We’re a week away from the roster being finalized, but more immediate than that, do we have a clear picture of what that roster might look like now? For that question the answer now seems to be yes.
Let’s start with the locks we’ve known about all along:
Already that’s a pretty solid foundation, but it also became clear fairly quickly that Ilya Mikheyev had earned his spot next to Kerfoot, and through the sheer brokenness of Michal Neuvirth, that Michael Hutchinson has a job locked up as well (assuming Dubas doesn’t get a hankerin’ to claim some waivers). Those are probably the no brainers at this point.
Additionally it seems that Rasmus Sandin and Martin Marincin have locked themselves into the bottom pairing. Throw in the fact that Spezza probably has a job somewhere, that Babcock doesn’t seem to want to part ways with Gauthier just yet, here’s a clearer picture
So that’s pretty close to a full roster, especially since the Leafs can only afford to carry one reserve player. That really leaves us with two training camp battles left.
Justin Holl vs. Ben Harpur
You couldn’t have two more opposite players here. Holl is smooth skating, right handed shot who generates offence. Harpur can barely move, shoots left, and generates disappointment. I guess I’m a little biased on which one I prefer, but that doesn’t change that Mike Babcock has praised both of these players at times, and most recently played Holl 22 minutes on Monday night.
While he was comfortable playing Holl, Babcock has mentioned that he doesn’t have many players like Harpur and could prefer the different things that he brings (i.e. goals against). As bizarre as it may seem, this could be the battle for the reserve roster spot.
Unfortunately nothing ever really became of Schmaltz, who could potentially be snagged off of waivers soon, but given the lack of fit he had with the Leafs, this isn’t disappointing beyond the fact that Andreas Borgman could have been a better option. He was a gamble based of Hakstol’s familiarity with him, but ultimately a failed experiment.
As much as putting Liljegren in the NHL immediately was a drum I wanted to beat, there’s no real rush, and a bit more time with the Marlies isn’t going to hurt him. While his improvement has been steady over his time with the organization, he’s not the NHL lock that Sandin is, and that’s okay.
I feel like I often forget about Kevin Gravel. That’s probably not good that he’s forgettable, but he hasn’t been bad. I wouldn’t count him out completely as a possibly to sneak into this picture, but he’s an ideal callup option assuming he goes unclaimed on waivers.
The wild card in all of this is if the Leafs choose to go with a forward as their reserve player instead of a defensemen. I don’t see that happening, but if it does it probably means that both of the players below have NHL jobs.
Dmytro Timashov vs. Nic Petan
Mike Babcock really seems to like Dmytro Timashov. He’s shown his versatility and that’s an important factor in a bottom six forward. At 22 and no long waivers exempt, he’d be an ideal candidate to step up and take a job on the Leafs. There’s the potential to grow beyond the confines of the 4th line and tap in to further potential. The idea of adding potential to the bottom six probably helped move both Timashov and Petan ahead of established replacement level players like Agostino, Shore, Aberg, and Gaudet.
As for Petan, Monday night he played like his career depended on it, and that sense of urgency was probably noticed and appreciated. Like Timashov, there’s still some untapped potential with Petan and that upside has to be considered when constructing a roster. The fact that Petan can line up at any forward position gives the Leafs some flexibility, and he’s a player you can feel comfortable about moving up the roster when needed.
If I had to guess, Timashov is the front runner here, as he’s also seeing time working with PK unit in practice. The projected third and fourth lines all have players taking shifts with one of the special teams units, and that seems important to Babcock.
Petan seems like the better player and the safer bet. He’s also the one more likely to be claimed off of waivers, although I’m not sure how much that will factor in.
The argument for keeping them both and letting Gauthier go is probably the one that most of us want to make, but again, with Babcock seeing Gauthier as a penalty kill option, he might have the role firmly locked up.
Based off of line rushes today, there seems to be some wavering about the 4C position, and if Gauthier doesn’t take it outright, he could be the odd man out.
#Leafs lines at practice:
Timashov-Spezza-Gauthier (alternating centres)
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) September 24, 2019
Should we make peace with the above lines?
Well, we’ll probably see Hutchinson step in for Kaskisuo, correct that, we’ll definitely see Kaskisuo go back to the Marlies soon. And similarly we don’t know where players like Holl and Petan will fit in with group that didn’t play Monday and is scheduled to go tomorrow, but we seem to be very close and some candidates have been eliminated from consideration. Cuts seem pretty imminent at this point.
Last season Kyle Dubas waited until the 11th hour before putting his players on waivers, that story will probably be no different this year. In addition to those players requiring waivers, I wouldn’t rule out extended looks at Egor Korshkov and Timothy Liljegren, who have been solid in camp, but most certainly Marlies to start. There may still be some surprises, but we’re pretty close to knowing what product will be on the ice this year.