Toronto Marlies GM and Toronto Maple Leafs assistant GM, Kyle Dubas, stopped by the Dean Blundell & Co Show to discuss the World Juniors — and the performances there from Leafs prospects Mitch Marner, Travis Dermott, Dmytro Timashov and Kasperi Kapanen — as well as William Nylander’s health status and the amazing first half of the season by the Toronto Marlies.
Full audio is available here.
Let’s start with William Nylander. How is he doing?
Kyle Dubas: Obviously, it’s captured a lot of attention. For a player of his ability, at that tournament, I guess rightfully so. Everyone is interested in it. It’s been covered in a very in-depth fashion. The process for Willy now is to be very cautious and make sure that he’s returning when he’s absolutely 100 percent, no questions asked. He’s on his way back here now. For us, we’ll get him back, our doctors will take over the process, and we’ll look forward to getting him back into the Marlies lineup but only when he’s 100 percent cleared and ready to go by our doctors.
Was that decision to leave for the World Junior Hockey Championships made by Sweden and William, or did yourself and Brendan and Lou have a part in that decision and say, “let’s just get him back here and figure it out”?
Dubas: I think the way that Sweden handles it, as a federation and a team and their doctors, really couldn’t have been better. Right away they collaborated with us. Lou has a great relationship with Peter Forsberg, the Vice President of their federation. That made the entire process very easy for us. We have two players there, William plus Dmytro Timashov, who has been a very good player for the team. We have had and continue to have a lot of Swedish players in our system, and draft quite a few of them, so our relationship there is very strong. The two parties worked together and collaborated and did what was best for William in the end.
Have you had a chance to assess, or have your doctors assessed where William Nylander is at, or is that still to come?
Dubas: Our doctors have worked in close conjunction with theirs and they basically have worked in lockstep with one another. Our doctors will evaluate him and take over that entire process when he arrives back here.
What was your take on some of the other players in the tournament, namely on the Canadian team with Mitch Marner and Travis Dermott, and Kasperi Kapanen? What have you seen so far out of those kids?
Dubas: I think, starting with the Canadians with Travis, I think he was in a spot where he was sort of splitting that sixth and seventh defenceman role in his first time with Team Canada in any regard. It was very interesting for me to see him. He got lots of first-unit powerplay time, and started to play more as the tournament went along. For a player like him – a second round pick, never been a part of Team Canada previously – I was happy with how he did. You never know what to expect; you didn’t know what to expect going into the selection camp. So we’re thrilled that he made the team; it’s another sign of his progress as a second round pick just last year. He’s a huge, huge part of a very good Erie Otters team. He plays roughly 30 minutes a night for them. We’re pleased with him.
With Mitch, obviously he showed some great things with the puck and finished off very strong in terms of scoring and had a number of great moments throughout the tournament where he showed what his potential exactly was. With Mitch, and I think we’re all on the same page, the key for him, as he moves forward, is to just continue to develop his strength. Getting stronger will allow him to have that same effectiveness consistently at this level and eventually with the Leafs. We’re excited about those two for sure, and look forward to continuing to work with them in the second half of the season.
Kapanen I thought started slow in the first game or two, and for me has been really really strong… I know he hasn’t had the prolific scoring of some of the other Finnish players, but for me he has been a huge factor in every game, especially as we’ve gotten to the latter stages of the round robin and then into the [elimination games]. Two assists yesterday, which was great to see. It sort of mirrors the way he started for the Marlies – he started a little bit slow, but he plays with great speed, he can make plays with the puck, forecheck very, very well, finish his checks well, can shoot and score. I know some people, the narrative, tend to get on him a little bit, but for me he’s played very well and he was excellent for the Marlies as well before departing. I’m excited for how Kasperi has played and I’m very excited about the potential that he has.
Were you surprised to hear that former Leaf coach Ron Wilson had no idea who was on the Russian team yesterday?
It was almost like a pride in saying, “I don’t know who is over there, I don’t really care.” As I understand it, line matching and scouting is a huge part of professional or semi-professional hockey, is it not?
Dubas: From all of my experience in hockey, I believe that it is. I’ve never really heard that before. I don’t really know what to say, I guess. I think that stuff has a big ability to backfire, and certainly I think now it puts him in a tough spot to explain based on the outcome yesterday.
Sticking with coaching – Mike Babcock, we’ve seen him do just a fantastic job with the Leafs this season. How has Mike Babcock never won coach of the year?
Dubas: I think that coach of the year, in looking at it, tends to go to the coach whose team has exceed expectations the most in the year, and not necessarily the coach that has done the absolute best job. If you look, year after year, it always seems to be a coach that – especially recently, and when Mike has been having his success in the last ten years – it tends to go to the coach whose team has exceeded the preseason prognostications by the greatest amount, or been the biggest surprise. Which is not a bad thing, and those coaches certainly deserve credit. Mike has consistently put himself in a position where his team has had great success, but they’ve always been expected to have success because of the way that Mike is and the expectations that he has. I think that’s why he’s never won coach of the year. Do I think that’s going to last forever? Based on everything that I’ve seen from Mike, and as I’ve continued to get to know him and work with him for what’s been seven months, I think it’s a matter of time before he wins the coach of the year award. And I don’t think he needs the award to justify the calibre of coach that he is. I think everyone in hockey knows that he’s one of the best coaches of this era. Hopefully, by the time he’s done with the Leafs and we reach our goals and stick to our plan, he can become known as one of the best coaches of this entire era, if not the best.
Back to the Marlies – the team has played 36 games, your record is 27-7 with two overtime losses. This is a really good hockey team, and this is a team that’s loaded on talent. You’re on the road for five games now. One of the things I wanted to ask you – when you guys decided, “hey, we’re going to put this team together, it’s going to mirror the Toronto Maple Leafs, we are going to have interchangeable parts, getting people ready there for the Maple Leafs,” did you foresee the success you’ve had with this Marlies team as quickly as you’ve had it?
Dubas: No, I guess, would be the blunt answer. I thought that, based on the youth of the team, it would take some time for us to adapt and develop. We started off the year 5-3, and since then it’s just kind of taken off and had a lot of success. I thought it would take much longer throughout the year, probably until about this point – the half way point – for our team to really begin playing that way. I think the reason why we’ve played so well and had success, all the credit for that needs to go to our coaching staff — Sheldon Keefe, Gord Dineen, AJ MacLean, Piero Greco, and now Justin Bourne, and the job that they’ve done every single day to get the players prepared — and the players’ full commitment to what we’re doing here with the Marlies on and off the ice. To say that I thought we’d be here right now – No, I didn’t think so, I thought it’d take a little bit longer, but I’m thrilled that we are, and really happy with where everything is at with the Marlies.