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Photo Credit: © Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Dmytro Timashov is a Toronto Maple Leaf. It’s Important to Remember How Impressive That Is

History won’t look back on December 5th, 2018 as a day to write home about, at least from a hockey perspective. To most, it was another slate in a long and winding season. Forgettable, really. But for those who attended the Toronto Marlies’ game that night, and watched the Providence Bruins hand Toronto a 5-0 defeat on home ice, the putridity of that loss lingered for a while.

December 5th, 2018, then, was a low point for all Marlies involved — Dmytro Timashov being chief among them. It didn’t seem that way at first, though.

Timashov’s start to the 2018-19 AHL season was, statistically speaking, cause for optimism. After two moderately ho-hum years mixed with the occasional flash of brilliance, Timashov entered that early-December contest with 14 points 22 games, a points-per-game pace of 0.63 that set him on course for a career-high. Four months later, Timashov would eventually achieve his new personal best. But for all of his box-score improvements, the on-ice product seemed relatively unchanged.

Timashov still grappled with stark inconsistency. It appeared unshakeable, even. A terror in the possession game one night, Timashov would then outright vanish for the three that followed, driving those who were enamoured with his ability to play offensive-zone keep-away with an entire hockey team for minutes at a time into fits.

Moreover, Timashov was beginning to take penalties. Lots of them. And what had first been brushed off as an October anomaly was now a pressing issue by Christmas.

Prior to facing the Bruins, Timashov had served a total of 24 minutes atoning for infractions. The additional two he proceeded to log later that night only added fuel to an already blazing fire and extended his streak of consecutive games with at least one minor penalty to four, ultimately gifting Providence with one of their five goals. The Marlies had been shorthanded for a combined 30 minutes over those four games. Timashov was responsible for 10.

While attempting to downplay the direness of the situation to reporters post-game, Sheldon Keefe was asked to explain how his team would move forward. His answer, offered after a slight pause, foreshadowed what was to come: “…change is necessary”

Timashov watched the Marlies’ next three games from the press box.

Fast forward less than a full calendar year, and the circumstances could not be more different.

Timashov is a Toronto Maple Leaf now. And not as a mere cap consequence, either. He’s made it. Timashov took the ice in the opening night lineup, his name announced to a sold-out Scotiabank Arena crowd, prefaced by smoke and lights, mere minutes before the organization named their 25th captain in franchise history. How he managed to get there is equally unlikely and impressive.

Locked in a fierce battle for a roster spot under a coach who tends to favour older players, Timashov took on a number of veteran favourites — Pontus Aberg, Kenny Agostino, Matt Read (to a degree), and Tyler Gaudet — who each entered camp with substantial NHL experience, and emerged victorious. Timashov, if you’ll recall, had never seen big-league ice. But there he was; kicking off his 2019-20 season against the Senators while the other four did the same versus Ottawa’s AHL affiliate.

Again: It’s important to emphasize just how unlikely this is.

I’ve covered Timashov since 2017. In doing so, I have watched every one of his (home) games with my own two eyes. I’ve even quizzed a number of informed people, whose opinions I trust, on what they perceive to be Timashov’s true ceiling. Throughout it all, every indication led back to the same consensus: If Timashov does have an NHL future — and that’s a BIG “if” — it almost certainly won’t be in Toronto.

There’s your definitive proof that I know nothing.

Assessing Timashov’s NHL performance is relatively unfair, given that he’s only played two games to this point in which he logged under 10 minutes of ice-time each, but his preseason showcase this year hinted towards a markedly improved player. Timashov’s early improvements are not exclusive to his stat line, as they were in 2018. In fact, the 23-year-old was held pointless in all four of his preseason games, still earning NHL employment nonetheless.

There’s a more mature and self-aware player here. Whereas previous years might have seen Timashov be unwilling to break out from his typical offence-first role, this year’s version is one who recognized the opportunity before him, dedicated himself to perfecting the various skills it required, and then executed those skills when it mattered most. Look what happened.

Timashov is embracing the world of depth hockey. His newfound love for throwing the body aside (we have sweet, sweet gifs for that), Timashov has also provided value in more subtle ways, such as being on the ice for just a single goal against despite starting 90% (!!!!!!!) of his shifts in the defensive zone, and even finding enough time in the 8:50 he logged on opening night to chip in an assist.

Those aren’t earth-shattering achievements. Then again, fourth-liners don’t really need to shatter anything.

Other than Jonathan Drouin‘s pride, that is.

Despite an impressive postseason run with the Marlies, Timashov still couldn’t shake his stature as a victim of internal gridlock heading into the summer. That wasn’t exactly a surprise. When it comes to organizational talent, the Maple Leafs are stuffed with wingers. They have been for quite some time. And while few can rival the Mitch Marners or William Nylanders of the world, for those stuck in the pipeline, a very specific blueprint offers the only ticket out.

Connor Brown adhered to it first, followed closely by Zach Hyman. Next came Trevor Moore. Now, Timashov appears to have stumbled upon it, too.

Finding that blueprint is but the first step, though. Following it is another matter entirely. Prospects with conceivably higher ceilings than Timashov’s have failed to do just that in years past only to leave town soon after; Josh Leivo, Brendan Leipsic, Nikita Soshnikov, to name a few. But Timashov succeeded. And as a result, that blueprint rocketed him up from an AHL press box to an NHL lineup in 10 months time.

History might not remember December 5th, 2018, but Timashov sure will. The date serves as the beginning of a turnaround for the former fifth-round pick. For the time being, it saved Timashov’s career, while later prefacing one of the more unlikely twists ever seen from a Leafs training camp and elevating him to hockey’s highest level.

That, if nothing else, is worth writing home about.