All of William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, Zach Hyman, Nikita Soshnikov, Brooks Laich and Ben Smith will be making their Toronto Maple Leafs debuts tonight.
— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) February 29, 2016
— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) February 29, 2016
One crucial thing to remember re: re-assignments. Officially announced they might be but Toronto can choose when paperwork goes through.
— Mark R (@MarkUkLeaf) February 29, 2016
While the Leafs can use the emergency recall loophole to some extent, they only have four recalls available after the deadline — the rule Brian Burke hates is still a rule — so they are getting a number of players up before the post-deadline limit takes effect. These are all players who have earned a look with their recent play and production.
With the cap on player recalls after 3 p.m. today, it makes sense to get everyone up for a few games (or more) now and make decisions later. All of Hyman, Soshnikov, Nylander and Kapanen will be loaned to the Marlies after 3 p.m. as a paper transaction to ensure they’re available to the Marlies for the playoffs.
In Nylander’s case, he’s been long since aware his chance was coming after the deadline and has been patiently waiting while numerous other Marlies have gotten the call ahead of him due to age and contractual reasons. This will be a special moment tonight.
Looking for today's new sweater numbers? Well…
Laich – #23
Smith – #26
Hyman – #11
Kapanen – #37
Nylander – #39
Soshnikov – #41#TMLtalk
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) February 29, 2016
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) February 29, 2016
Leafs PP units:
— Jonas Siegel (@jonassiegel) February 29, 2016
The 23-year-old was acquired from Florida after stating his intention to test free agency last summer, opting to come home to Toronto — a decision no doubt influenced by his connection to Kyle Dubas, his former adviser/agent. Hyman survived later into 2015 training camp than most expected, appearing to make the right impression on head coach Mike Babcock with his high motor and presence on the forecheck. In his first professional season with the Marlies, Hyman has been moved around the lineup a lot while managing to score eleven goals and 31 points in 51 outings. Currently entrusted to line up alongside Kasperi Kapanen and William Nylander, Hyman recorded three primary helpers in Marlies’ recent victory against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. His 14 even strength primary assists total is second behind only Josh Leivo. He’s adapted to the Marlies new system and the American Hockey League quickly and is a disciplined player (just one minor penalty in last 17 games). Establishing himself as part of the penalty kill, Hyman leads the team with three shorthanded points (two goals/one assist). The Toronto native would be an interesting guy to take a look at in the NHL with his well-rounded skillset and work ethic, knowing he’s recently produced at the near-point-per-game rate you look for in advance of a call up (10 points in his last 12 games).
The 22-year-old Russian free agent signing first drew attention this season for his work on the Marlies penalty kill. Paired with Frederik Gauthier, the two were a major part of why Toronto’s PK was excellent early in the season. His turn of speed and willingness to drive the net has seen him create many shorthanded opportunities this season and score two goals at 4v5. What makes his success in this area even more impressive is that he apparently didn’t even play on the PK back in Russia. Whoever has played alongside Soshnikov and Gauthier has always benefited from the experience, whether it be Rich Clune (yes, really) or, more recently, Tobias Lindberg in what looks an intriguing line if Keefe decides to keep them together. The words versatile and reliable come to mind with Soshnikov, and that ability to plug in just about anywhere while also providing PK utility could go a long way in getting his foot in the door in the NHL lineup. He’s hard to shrug off the puck, shows strong decision-making and isn’t afraid to get involved with the physical side of the game. Despite playing on a checking line, Soshnikov has registered 25 points this season, with all — bar three points — either goals or primary assists. Twelve goals at even strength puts him only one behind Brennan, Arcobello and Nylander, all of whom are/were tearing the League apart this season. Only recently given opportunities on the powerplay, Soshnikov’s racked up six points at 5v4, half of which are goals. Soshnikov has another two years on his entry-level deal before he’s an RFA, but how long he sticks around in North America could depend on what kind of shot he receives in the NHL, which is why the Leafs may present him with that opportunity sooner than later.
For Nylander, who has proven himself an elite AHL scorer month over month and is posting a historically unprecedented points-per-game pace for a 19 year old, the question is a more complicated one. Chief among the considerations is how the Leafs want to go about managing his contractual situation within the parameters of the CBA. Something we talked about here back in October is the idea of giving Nylander an NHL taste in the neighbourhood of 10-20 games, or anywhere up to 40, in the back half of the season so as to give Nylander some NHL development time under Mike Babcock while burning an ELC year but not a year of his RFA eligibility (which comes into play at the 40-game mark; therefore, it is no longer a factor this season). Potentially, it could serve Leafs management well in their first major contract negotiation by reducing the NHL body of work Nylander’s camp has to negotiate with. With potential high-end talents like William Nylander, RFA control becomes more important than the ELC in the big picture, so the theory here is “the earlier the better” when it comes to locking up the 19-year-old to his first major contract. There is an element of risk in that approach. If Nylander were to come out and crush it in his first two NHL seasons with a better-than-expected rookie year, they may regret not having the extra year of his ELC come 2018-19. The question is, what is the smarter bet? There is also the middle-ground option of giving Nylander a nine-game taste, stopping short of burning his first ELC year.