The Toronto Maple Leafs depth on the blue line will be tested for the first time this season with the news that defenceman Martin Marincin has been recalled due to a lower-body injury for Nikita Zaitsev, who has been placed on injured reserve.

Zaitsev moving to IR means that he’ll be out of the lineup for a minimum of seven days, which in the Leafs‘ case includes three games – vs. Carolina, at Columbus, and at NYR.

The Leafs were in a similar situation in the playoffs last Spring when Zaitsev missed the first three games of the series against Washington. Marincin played some minutes on the right next to Jake Gardiner in that series, as well as on the left next to Connor Carrick. It was a mixed-bag playoff performance for Marincin, overall. He logged pretty big minutes and had some good moments defensively (particularly on the PK against a high-powered Washington power play) but also was at the centre of the OT winners for the Capitals in Games 1 and 6.

The story with Marincin over the last few seasons has been that he’s pretty strong defensively and excellent on the PK but often “fights it” with the puck on his stick. At the NHL level, he’s struggled to make clean plays and often looks uncomfortable carrying the puck. Some of that is tied to his confidence, which in Marincin’s case can really waver over the course of the season, as Babcock has described a number of times since arriving here as head coach.

The Leafs will be hoping Marincin’s time with the Marlies could help in that regard; while he’s been less productive lately, he put up seven points in his first 11 games, including a two-goal performance against Binghamton on Nov. 10. Most players look better in the AHL than the NHL, but the contrast in Marincin’s confidence at the two levels is particularly pronounced.

On the penalty kill, Marincin is a credible replacement for Zaitsev; in his time with the Leafs in the previous couple of seasons, he usually makes good reads there and he is effective at breaking up entries with his massive wingspan. Marincin’s shorthanded shots against rate was right up there with Matt Hunwick and Roman Polak for best among Leafs defencemen (53.44 SA/60) last season.

At even strength, Babcock has suggested in the past that he’s comfortable with Marincin on the right and thought he played his best hockey there last season while lining up next to Morgan Rielly. It’s unlikely that Babcock will move away from Rielly-Hainsey, however, so you’d expect that Marincin will slot in next to Gardiner if does suit up at some point over Connor Carrick, who will get an opportunity to return to the lineup against Carolina. In a small sample size, Gardiner and Marincin’s numbers together were quite strong last year:

Player 1Player 2GPTOICF%FF%SF%GF%SCF%
Martin MarincinJake Gardiner2547:1262.559.1558.77563.46

One of the league’s healthiest teams last year, the Leafs’ depth is now being tested as the 2017-18 season heads towards the midway point. The time Auston Matthews has spent on the shelf has certainly tested the club’s resolve up front. They’ll now need to overcome a significant absence (for at least the next three games) at arguably the weakest spot on the organizational depth chart – the right side of their defence.