Leafs hockey returns tonight at the Canadian Tire Centre in Kanata, with plenty of storylines to follow on day one of preseason.
In addition to the first warm-up appearances for Auston Matthews’ line, Morgan Rielly and Connor Brown, tonight marks the unofficial debut of Ron Hainsey (and Dominic Moore 2.0) in a Leaf sweater. There are also plenty of players on the bubble in action tonight.
The obvious battles to follow during exhibition primers are for the bottom-pairing left defence spot — currently between Calle Rosen, Travis Dermott and Martin Marincin — and the 12th forward spot, which is currently a contest between Josh Leivo (waiver eligible), Nikita Soshnikov (waiver exempt for three more NHL games), Eric Fehr, and Kasperi Kapanen (exempt). Miro Aaltonen is also looking to challenge for a fourth line spot up front, although the Leafs‘ four centers are set to start the season, barring injury. He is looking to stake a claim to first in line on the call-up list, however, and appears to be off to a good start in that regard based on Mike Babcock’s comments from the early stages of training camp.
Of those above-mentioned players on the bubble, all but Martin Marincin will play tonight. Also appearing is 2017 first rounder Timothy Liljegren, who is expected to play alongside his partner from the rookie tournament in Dermott. That may well turn out to be the top pairing for the Toronto Marlies at the start of the regular season, although nothing is set in stone as far as Dermott’s whereabouts for October; with Marincin appearing in just 25 games last season and Rosen new to the league, he’s got everything to play for this preseason. Dermott appeared to be in excellent shape and eager to make a push based on his appearance in the rookie tournament.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
Hyman – Matthews – Nylander
Kapanen – Mueller – Soshnikov
Martin – Moore – Fehr
Leivo – Aaltonen – Brown
Rielly – Hainsey
Dermott – Liljegren
Rosen – Carrick
Paliotta – LoVerde
Ottawa Senators Projected Lines
Stone – Pageau – Ryan
Perron – Sexton – Randall
Smith – White – Hoffman
Burrows – Suter – Gagne
Phaneuf – Chabot
Oduya – Ceci
Englund – Jaros
Mike Babcock speaks to the media ahead of game one of the preseason
What sort of expectations do you have for a guy like Timothy Liljegren in his first camp and first preseason game?
Babcock: I’m just going to watch him. I saw him five times at the World Junior showcase in Plymouth. He was a star there. His first scrimmage with the Marlies was rocky for him. He’s been better at camp. He should be more comfortable. He’s got a partner tonight to talk to him, so that should help him. But it is NHL players – at least half, anyway – so it will be a different pace for him, but it will be fine for him.
Dermott said it’s kind of weird to play with a player who is so similar to him in Liljegren. Do you see that as well?
Babcock: I wouldn’t have said that, but he’s out there with him, so he might know him even better than me. Liljegren is a skilled guy for sure. Dermott is a much bigger body and plays a more competitive type of game, whereas this guy has got just elite, elite, elite skill. I don’t see them the same, but maybe he’s right.
What does Calle Rosen have to do to catch your eye?
Babcock: He’s catching it. He doesn’t have to do much. Just keep doing what he’s doing. He’s a good player. He skates real good. A real good hockey IQ. What happens is you just want to make the team on day one, and now you want to make the team just before Oct. 4th. Usually, we adjust it for about 20 games. They’re going to decide. I’m going to watch.
Lots of talk about the energy this season and that it’s more exciting than it has been in a long time. Can you speak to that?
Babcock: Well, the team is better. It’s fun to be around. They have some confidence, so they think things are going to go good. The secret is it doesn’t go good unless you make it go good. The fans can be as excited as they want to be. If you don’t do your work and do good things, good things don’t happen. It’s real simple. Let’s get our work done and let’s get as prepared as we possibly can. Let’s get better every day and then we have a chance to be good.