Mitch Marner will feature in the bumper role on the power play, while Petr Mrazek, Nick Ritchie, Ondrej Kase, David Kampf, Kirill Semyonov, Carl Dahlstrom, and Brennan Menell will make their unofficial Leafs debuts tonight in Montreal (7 p.m. EST, TSN2&4).
Based on what we have seen so far in camp and preseason, it seems that new power play coach Spencer Carbery may try out a top unit with Auston Matthews and William Nylander on opposite half-walls (something many were clamoring for for months last season), John Tavares at the net front, and Mitch Marner in the bumper role to start the season.
On paper, this creates a lot more headaches for the opposing penalty-killing units when there are multiple shot threats to account for on separate sides of the ice. In the final months of the season and postseason, there is also no question the Leafs did not get off the perimeter and create enough slot/low-slot opportunity on the man advantage.
In the bumper slot, anticipating where the play is going, making creative little touch plays in tight spaces, and getting pucks off quickly is just as important as having a ton of power behind the shot, so we’ll see if Marner successfully takes to the bumper role. No doubt, having a high-end shot does always help and it also requires a lot of courage and strength on the puck to jump on second and third opportunities in highly-contested areas of the ice (which is where Nazem Kadri made hay in this role prior to the regrettable trade).
There is, of course, an obvious question that this all engenders: Why did the coaching staff — and after a certain point amid the prolonged struggle, the buck stopped with Sheldon Keefe here — need to wait until the power play, in no small part, torpedoed a golden opportunity for the franchise with a relatively easy path to the Conference Finals before making this obviously-needed change?
In other lineup news, we’ll see the Leafs’ new goaltending tandem in action with Petr Mrazek and Jack Campbell splitting the net, no doubt leading to hours of over-analysis about what it all means for game one and beyond should either let in a marginally weak goal. The reality is that, health and performance permitting, this battle is going to play out over 82 games — that’s the design behind the tandem — and may well continue into the postseason. Preseason is simply about reps, particularly for the goalie adjusting to a new team in Mrazek.
Nick Ritchie will make his debut opposite Marner (centered by Adam Brooks), while countrymen and long-time friends David Kampf and Ondrej Kase will play alongside one another in their unofficial Leafs debuts (Semyonov will skate alongside fellow Russian national Ilya Mikheyev as well). Also of note: Travis Dermott is starting next to Morgan Rielly on the right side, which makes sense given he’s played spot duty there in the NHL before (as well as with the Marlies) and there is a hole to fill at the bottom-pairing RD spot with Zach Bogosian departed.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on moving Mitch Marner to the bumper role:
We just think it’s something we haven’t tried, and we want to get a look at it to see what it looks like. We feel it is an area that is under-utilized by us. Getting Mitch the puck in that space, he has as good of an ability or better than anyone we have in terms of getting out of tight spaces and creating a play that you otherwise would think isn’t there. Of course, it gives us the ability to have two shooters on the flanks at the same time.
We want to get a look at it. We like what we have seen in practice so far — not just on that unit, but on the other groups as well that have had the same kind of focus on the interior of the ice. But it is early. We will get a look at it.
Keefe on Spencer Carbery taking over the power play:
Fresh voice and fresh eyes. We still have Manny on the staff, and he and Spencer work closely on making a plan and building out a plan. Through their review and daily process. they will work together on it.
Spencer is a great coach. He has a good vision and a good plan. He has that perspective as a head coach in terms of how things play out and such. The biggest things are the fresh voice and fresh eyes, good ideas. It was a good fit for us given what we went through last season.
Keefe on the conversation with Manny Malhotra about Carbery taking over leadership on the power play:
Tough conversation. He was brought here to do a job. Manny is a team guy. He is still very much involved in everything that we are doing off the ice, including the power play.
Keefe on Ondrej Kase:
I think he is a very versatile guy. I am anxious to watch him more. I think he has a really good skill set offensively with his ability to make plays and finish plays. Also, he is tenacious on the puck. I think he can move up and down our lineup and play anywhere we feel we need him.
He can help us on the power play as well. I am going to try to give him some penalty kill time — he hasn’t had a great amount of time on the penalty kill in his career, but I am hoping to give him some looks there to see what it looks like. From a skill set standpoint, in terms of how he skates, his anticipation, and his hunger on the puck — all of the things we want on our penalty kill — he seems to have those traits. He just doesn’t have a great deal of experience. We are going to give him those opportunities.
He is another guy I am excited about. He has to stay healthy and all of that — all signs are good here thus far — but I think he has a really good skill set. Because he hasn’t played, his injury history, and such, there is not a lot of talk about him, but he is a very good and reliable player.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#20 Nick Ritchie – #77 Adam Brooks – #16 Mitch Marner
#97 Nikita Gusev – #64 David Kampf – #25 Ondrej Kase
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #94 Kirill Semyonov – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#43 Brett Seney – #85 Semyon Der-Arguchintsev – #28 Joey Anderson
#44 Morgan Rielly – #23 Travis Dermott
#48 Carl Dahlstrom – #3 Justin Holl
#56 Kristians Rubins – #61 Brennan Menell
#36 Jack Campbell
#35 Petr Mrazek
Montreal Canadiens Projected Lines
Jonathan Drouin – Christian Dvorak – Josh Anderson
Rafaël Harvey-Pinard – Jake Evans – Joel Armia
Danick Martel – Jean-Sébastien Dea – Jesse Ylönen
Michael Pezzetta – Jan Mysak – Gabriel Bourque
Kaiden Guhle – David Savard
Mattias Norlinder – Ben Chiarot
Corey Schueneman – Chris Wideman