NASHVILLE – Travis Dermott has spent the last five years living out his childhood dream of playing for his favourite team.
Even though it’s becoming evident that he could be waking up from that dream to a new reality at any moment, Dermott couldn’t help but feel lucky that everything perfectly aligned for him to get to this point.
“I keep pinching myself even to this day. Like, there’s no way? Like, I’m still dreaming from Draft Day, right? They didn’t actually call my name,” Dermott said as he reminisced about his tenure. “This was just a five-year-long dream. But yeah, you try to take it for all it is and really appreciate it.”
Dermott returned to the Maple Leafs’ lineup on Saturday after he sat out as a healthy scratch for the past nine days. Bouncing in and out of games had been commonplace for the 25-year-old. When the Leafs had seven fully healthy defenceman this season, Dermott was part of a regular rotation that included Timothy Liljegren, Justin Holl, and sometimes Rasmus Sandin as players who sat out.
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But things appeared to take a turn over the course of the last month.
Veteran defenceman Jake Muzzin suffered his second concussion of the season on Feb. 21 against the Montreal Canadiens. They added another body by acquiring Ilya Lyubushkin from the Arizona Coyotes and the Russian has played in every game for the Leafs since landing in Toronto.
And with Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas saying on more than one occasion that he was looking to improve his team’s defence, it was becoming clear that Dermott may not be long for Toronto.
“It’s always a possibility to get moved out,” Dermott said. “You wish everything works out as well as it could, but that’s hockey. So you just kind of read and react and make the best of your situation.”
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It wasn’t too long ago when Dermott was being asked to take on more responsibility, not less.
When Muzzin was out of the lineup for Game 7 against the Canadiens in the first round of the 2021 NHL Playoffs, it was Dermott that the Leafs called upon to take the veteran’s spot on the second pair alongside Justin Holl.
With newer younger faces in the lineup and the team still looking to improve, it’s hard to see where Dermott fits into the equation.
“That’s what good teams are built on, they’re built on competition within the group,”  Dermott said. “You, of course, expect a lot of things when you do put in the hours but nothing’s promised. You just try to come in every day. Do your job. Be happy with the effort you put in and kind of take the outcomes kind of as they come.”
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Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported in his 32 Thoughts podcast that both the team and Dermott had reached an understanding that perhaps it may be best if all parties move on.
It was no surprise that the kid from Newmarket, Ontario, was in a reflective mood during his post-game news conference.
“I’ve grown up here. Always been a Leafs fan growing up. So you know, it’s another way you could just say it’s hockey, right?” Dermott said.  It was surreal being drafted by the Leafs and all this stuff leading up to this. But you know how many guys play their entire career on the same team. So, it’s something that *pauses* you know, it’s always there.”
During his most recent stint as a healthy scratch, Dermott sat out the 2022 NHL Heritage Classic last week in Hamilton, Ontario. He didn’t flat out admit he was upset about his omission from the game and laughed and paused before choosing his words carefully.
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“That’s probably a game you’re looking forward to,” Dermott said. “But I mean, not much to say other than that’s hockey. Happy the young guys got to get in and experience that I already had one outdoor game, so it’s all I got for that.”
Dermott has always taken a positive approach. He was pressed about his exposure in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft last summer and always took tough questions in stride.
If this is the end, Dermott certainly made an impact on his teammates.
“Nothing really seems to get to him, he’s always happy,” Auston Matthews said of Dermott. “He was always a guy that brings a lot of good energy to the group.”
But if Monday comes and goes and Dermott is still with the Maple Leafs, he’ll be happy to stick with a team that has been through a lot.
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“I love this group,” Dermott said. “Through tough times we bounce back pretty well. Going forward, it’s going to be exciting.”