Mike Babcock addressed the media after practice on Thursday, discussing Andreas Johnsson’s progress this season, William Nylander’s play despite his slow production, Patrick Marleau’s leadership, and more.
With three days off, it’s nice to have a full-day practice before that first game back.
Babcock: It’s good. It concerns me a little bit that Columbus is playing [tonight] just because of the fact that, if you watched us practice, you’d know we were a little bit rusty, to say the last. Ideally, we’ll be better tomorrow and get ready for them.
What do you think it says about Patrick Marleau and his role here that he would take in Auston for Christmas when he didn’t have his family here?
Babcock: Well, that’s the only one that is covered in the paper, or whatever you call those things, or in the press. There was lots of that going on. That is one that was talked about, but we’ve got good guys on our team. It was important that everyone was looked after for Christmas, even guys who got injured and had to change plans. It was important they had a place to go. Our team reached out to those guys and made sure they were looking after.
Have you seen an evolution in Marleau’s role in his second year here?
Babcock: I suppose there was an evolution. Patty has been Patty since well before we got him, obviously. He knew why he was coming and what his job was when he arrived. I think, as the guys got know him better, they might be more comfortable with him. I don’t think he’s necessarily any more comfortable. He was a man already. But he’s a real good person and he has a ton of the attributes we want a Leaf to be. I think it is imperative that you have good people leading.
What does it say about Auston Matthews that he got voted into the All-Star game despite a knee injury and missing all of those games?
Babcock: I don’t know exactly how the process works, but obviously, it is a fan vote? Obviously, good for him. Good player and he’s at that time in his career that he’s getting a lot of notoriety. He’s exciting and it’s exciting for our franchise. I don’t know how much it plays into which franchise you’re with as far as fan votes go, too; I don’t know about that, but obviously, he’s a good player and it’s good for him. It’s a real compliment to him from the fans. You always want to be good to the fans and they’ll be good to you. Obviously, with the skill set he has and the demeanor he has, there is a lot to like.
How do you think Andreas Johnsson has fit in on that John Tavares-Mitch Marner line?
Babcock: That line’s been good. I think Johnsson and Kapanen have played real hard. Now, the level watermark — when is it? And how long can you maintain it? I don’t know the answer to that, but I am going to keep watching. Johnny has done a real nice job of getting to the net. He’s done a real nice job of staying on his feet. In the early going, he wasn’t able to do that. He’s been able to handle the cycle and he’s taking care of the puck and he’s worked. I think they’ve done a good job. We’d like to have three dominant, dominant offensive lines. That’s important that Johnny plays well if we’re going to have that.
Did you know what you could expect from those two guys, in particular, coming into the year? Was it kind of wait and see?
Babcock: I didn’t know. Anybody who can tell you that they knew is full of it. We watched them every day. That’s the beauty of it. That’s why when you look at the draft, sometimes it’s upside down. Even the experts don’t get it right. And those are the real ones. That’s just the process. We’ll know in five years what’s happened. But right now, both guys are doing a good job.
Will you expand Trevor Moore’s role tomorrow night?
Babcock: No. He is where he is. He’s on the power play and he’s taking a regular shift. He’s going to do the same thing. As time goes on, we’ll see what happens. Last game, there were a lot of penalties in the first period, if I am not mistaken. He hardly got on the ice at all. On one of the power plays, he never got out there, either, just because one of the guys was stuck out in the offensive zone. But we plan on him playing on the power play and playing a regular shift with those guys, whatever that regular shift may be.
Is Igor Ozhiganov back to 100%?
Babcock: It was hard to tell if anyone was 100% today. How about if I say we’ll know more tomorrow night at game time? How’s that? I think health-wise, he is.
How often would you talk to William Nylander during this production slump that he’s going through right now?
Babcock: When I talk to Willy, we never talk about production. You never, ever talk to players about production. You talk to players about the process and working hard and competing and doing the little things in the game that allow you to be successful. When I met with Willy today, and I did meet with Willy, all I showed him was all of the battles he won last game. I thought that was his best effort and it’s important to understand that it was a good effort for him. We want him to just continue to work hard and compete. When he gets his feel back, the rest of it will come.