An up-and-down, sloppy overtime win in New Jersey last night brought the Toronto Maple Leafs to six consecutive wins as they make their way back home for an Original Six Hockey Night in Canada matchup against the New York Rangers (7 p.m. ET, CBC).
Another two points for the Leafs was somewhat overshadowed by a sloppy defensive performance and a serious injury to one of their best 5v5 performers this year. The team announced this morning that, after urgently leaving last night’s game due to a severe cut on his wrist inflicted by the skate of Jesper Bratt, Ilya Mikheyev will be out long term. The team released an update on their website detailing the recovery as it stands right now:
The 25-year-old is expected to make a full recovery but a more accurate timeline for his return will be provided in three months
The most important part is that Mikheyev is okay and is expected to make a full recovery.
On the less-important hockey side of things, it goes without saying that this injury is a blow for the team and a brutal break for Mikheyev who, in his first NHL season, has taken to the league extremely well, earning his way into the top six of a deep Leafs lineup and earning fan-favourite status with his pace, reach, consistent work rate, understated puck skills, and knack for a humorous post-game quote. He was on pace for around 50 points and was a legitimate 20-goal threat thanks to a recent stretch of four goals and six points in his last six games, including a goal in the win versus the Devils last night before the unfortunate incident took place while Mikheyev was skating on an intriguing new line with John Tavares and William Nylander.
With Mikheyev out and Trevor Moore and Andreas Johnsson still sidelined for the short-term at least, the Leafs wing depth will be further tested. Thankfully, their depth up front, at least on the wing, is plentiful. We’ll have to wait until near puck-drop for a look at the lines, but Pierre Engvall is the likeliest candidate to move into a spot alongside John Tavares with Mikheyev out — and that is quite the opportunity for a player who has been in the NHL all of a month. Alternatively, the team could shift Alex Kerfoot onto the left wing and move Jason Spezza into the 3C role.
The team has also been keeping Adam Brooks around as an extra forward on the roster, so the 23-year-old may get into the lineup tonight for his first NHL action. Brooks, an overaged fourth-round pick of the Leafs in 2016, has quietly made steady progress in his development over the past year with the Marlies as an undersized (5’10, 185 lbs) but hard-working center with a competent, well-rounded skill set. He put up a respectable 40 points in 61 games last season before starting the 2019-20 campaign with eight goals and 16 points in 20 games.
The team has also recalled Kenny Agostino, the Marlies‘ leading goal scorer with 16 goals and 26 points in 26 games, good for fourth in the AHL in goals. Agostino showed well in preseason, where he looked like he could do a job for the team down the lineup with his ability to grind complemented by a competent skill set and an offensive touch around the net.
Either Agostino or Brooks could dress tonight on the fourth line — and potentially both if the team were to rest Spezza in the second half of a back-to-back as they have several times so far this season. From there, the team could push Kerfoot over to cover on the left wing and shift Spezza into the middle, or it could bump up Dmytro Timashov into the top nine. With no morning skate, we won’t know for sure until Sheldon Keefe meets with the media in a couple of hours.
Update: More bad news on the injury front for the Toronto Maple Leafs — One half of the Leafs’ matchup pair, Jake Muzzin, is out week to week with a broken foot. One of Martin Marincin or Timothy Liljegren will step into the lineup, while Travis Dermott likely moves up next to Justin Holl. Dermott has played above 15 minutes just once in his last five games — so the Leafs are going to need him to step up big time here as Muzzin recovers.
— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) December 28, 2019
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#11 Zach Hyman – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#41 Dmytro Timashov – #47 Pierre Engvall – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#33 Frederik Gauthier – #77 Adam Brooks — #19 Jason Spezza
#44 Morgan Rielly – #94 Tyson Barrie
#23 Travis Dermott – #3 Justin Holl
#52 Martin Marincin – #83 Cody Ceci
#31 Frederik Andersen (starter)
#30 Michael Hutchinson
Scratched: Timothy Liljegren
Injured: Andreas Johnsson, Trevor Moore, Ilya Mikheyev, Jake Muzzin
New York Rangers Projected Lines
#20 Chris Kreider – #93 Mika Zibanejad – #89 Pavel Buchnevich
#10 Artemi Panarin – #16 Ryan Strome – #17 Jesper Fast
#48 Brendan Lemieux (out, lines TBD) – #72 Filip Chytil – #24 Kaapo Kakko
#14 Greg McKegg – #21 Brett Howden – #42 Brendan Smith
#76 Brady Skjei – #8 Jacob Trouba
#18 Marc Staal – #77 Anthony DeAngelo
#55 Ryan Lindgren – #23 Adam Fox
#40 Alexandar Georgiev (starter)
#30 Henrik Lundqvist
Injured: Brendan Lemieux