The Maple Leafs have added to their center depth with the acquisition of 25-year-old Sergey Kalinin from the New Jersey Devils.
Kalinin had recently been passed through waivers by the Devils and can therefore be immediately assigned to the Marlies. The idea behind sending Marlies defenceman Viktor Loov back in the deal instead of submitting an earlier waiver claim is to make the contracts line up with the trade deadline approaching and the Leafs currently sitting at 49 out of a possible 50 Standard Player Contracts.
That also speaks to the lack of optimism about Loov’s NHL potential at this stage of his development. The 24-year-old’s trajectory has been pointing in the wrong direction since a promising rookie season in the AHL. He put up six goals and 21 points in 74 games while turning heads with some fearless open-ice hits after crossing over from Modo in 2014-15, but the 2012 seventh round draft selection has taken a step back in his production in his subsequent two seasons and did not look close to NHL ready in his four-game evaluation stint with the Leafs at the end of 2015-16.
Loov, who has recorded just six points in 41 games this season in the AHL, earned a C grade from Marlies writer Mark Rackham at the mid-season mark:
After making some strides in his game last season, Loov appears to have stagnated and even possibly regressed during his third season in North America. His decision making has been shambolic at times and he’s another defenseman who has been sloppy with the puck inside his own zone. He’s been moved away from Wrenn and Holl, his regular partners for the majority of his games, and has recently skated alongside Travis Dermott.
As for Kalinin, he appears AHL-bound for the time being and the Marlies could certainly use the help at center ice down the stretch. It’s also worth noting that, earlier today, Mike Babcock suggested that the Leafs‘ current fourth-line center, Ben Smith, has struggled since he returned from the injury that kept him out of the lineup for a month and a half from mid-December to early February:
Since Ben Smith returned from injury, how long until you saw him climb to the level he was at before and have you been happy with what you have seen?
Babcock: Here of late, better at the start, not quite as good… Smitty is just an honest, hard-working guy. His intangibles are more than his skill set. Until he gets up to speed, it’s harder for him.
Frederik Gauthier acquitted himself pretty well by his head coach’s account in his stint as the team’s 4C this season during Smith’s time on the shelf, but Babcock has indicated that the organization’s development program for Gauthier from here on out involves bigger minutes with the Marlies in his sophomore pro season.
Kalinin, 6’3 and 200 pounds, will add another depth option. He has been a full-time NHLer primarily in a fourth-line role (switching between center and wing) for the Devils since coming over from the KHL as a free agent following the 2014-15 season. He’s accumulated 19 points in 121 games between the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons while averaging 13:08 in ice time, including 51 seconds a game on the penalty kill.
The Omsk native has averaged just a 41.5% success rate on the faceoff dot since arriving in the NHL and has posted a 44.1% Corsi For Percentage this season, although he has started over 45% of his shifts in the defensive zone — by far the highest DZFO% among Devils regulars.
Kalinin, an RFA at season’s end, will be exempt from the expansion draft as a second-year pro.