Joseph Woll will make his NHL debut between the pipes as the Maple Leafs look to make it eight wins in their last nine games tonight in Buffalo (7 p.m. EST, Sportsnet/CBC).
The easy move would’ve been to call up Michael Hutchinson for what likely would have been another mediocre-at-best backup start, but I’ll give the Leafs credit for changing it up here.
The 23-year-old Woll is currently playing on a one-year, two-way deal signed coming off of the expiration of his entry-level contract. His three-year professional career has been marred by injuries, and the timing of his healthy stretches often seemed to coincide with plenty of shoddy defensive performances from the Marlies team in front of him. Some inconsistency to his play, the myriad injuries, and some bad timing all conspired to leave him with very underwhelming AHL numbers to date (consistently sub .895) in a limited sample (50 games spanning three seasons).
It feels like the Leafs have decided that if they were going to wait until Woll finally hit a run of statistically-sparking injury-free AHL games before calling him up for an NHL look, they might have never gotten a glimpse at him at the highest level before his time with the organization runs its course. The Leafs organization believes enough in the highly athletic, 6’4 Missouri native’s talent and character — more than any professional track record he’s put together — to the point where we’ll get a peek at him tonight (in the building where the team drafted him 62nd overall back in 2016, no less).
That the Leafs have been so invested in keeping Woll’s development on track despite continuous setbacks — involving him on the taxi-squad last season, bringing him up at different times over the past few years to practice with the team, including on road trips — also in part speaks to the fact that the organization knows it needs to improve its overall drafting and development of goaltenders. They haven’t produced a single one of note since James Reimer back in 2006.
It is a big part of why the team has lost so many of their second and third-string options to waiver claims over the years. They have not developed young, cheap, capable goalies who can freely move back and forth between the leagues. They acquired Jack Campbell from LA in a trade that looks to be nothing short of a masterstroke by Kyle Dubas, but they then needed to go free-agent shopping and allocate significant (precious) cap dollars to find his 1B/backup in Petr Mrazek, who is currently hurt.
Should the Leafs have given Woll the start at home last night with the team rested? Probably not given Calgary was playing pretty good hockey coming in. Buffalo has been a house of horrors for the Leafs historically, but this Sabres team is returning to Earth after a surprise start with five losses in its last six games, and they’re also tired having hosted Edmonton for a 3-2 win last night.
With the Leafs rolling at the moment (seven wins in their last eight), the timing makes a good amount of sense. Let’s see what the kid’s got, and let’s hope the Leafs show up for him tonight.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on the decision to start Joseph Woll:
I think the big thing is that as an organization, we really believe in him. We believe in his talent. In an ideal world, you want him to really get rolling with the Marlies and really work to develop himself over the course of the season. As it turns out now, there is an opportunity now.
He has played well through camp. He has worked extremely hard. It has been a while now, but he is coming off of an outstanding last start for the Marlies in his last game action. He has had more than enough time to practice with us.
I told him three or four days ago he was going to be getting the start tonight. He has had more than enough opportunity to prepare. It is a big night for him.
I think the big thing is that our organization really believes in him and his talent. Sometimes things come because you have really earned it and established yourself at the AHL level. Sometimes it happens because someone gets hurt and the opportunity is there.
Whether it is Michael Hutchinson or even Erik Kallgren — who has been down there and has done a good job with the Marlies — we had some decisions to make there. Joe is a third-year pro with us now. It is a good chance for him.
Sabres head coach Don Granato on Dylan Cozens’ two goals in last night’s win on a night when he matched up against Connor McDavid:
The decision started a few days ago. I watched some clips of Dylan. I finished the clips and I asked him a question: Was he ready to play against that matchup? I watched his body language. If his body language was different, he wouldn’t have gotten that matchup. I liked what I saw, and I felt he was ready for the challenge, whichever way it went.
… Those guys [Cozens, Caggiula, Hinostroza] had good chemistry. They moved as a unit. When you do that, you are pacing off of each other and you can generate a lot more speed. You could see them building from the Washington game. They had a lot of opportunity, but they didn’t create scoring chances. They followed it up with two good practices, and I felt they were ready for the next step.
Jack Campbell on Joseph Woll:
He is a great kid. A tremendous talent, too. I have a lot of fun watching him. I call him Quickie 2.0 — not to give him too much pressure. He is really flexible. He makes some big-time saves and battles in practice. I just love a lot of the characteristics of his game. I just love having him up here.
Auston Matthews on Woll:
He has been great. He comes to the rink every day with a great attitude. He is always smiling. I have known him since the national team days, so he is a great kid. He works hard. He loves the game and loves being in there and competing. He’ll be really excited and ready to go.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#58 Michael Bunting – #34 Auston Matthews – #88 William Nylander
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#47 Pierre Engvall – #64 David Kampf – #25 Ondrej Kase
#20 Nick Ritchie – #19 Jason Spezza – #94 Kirill Semyonov
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#23 Travis Dermott – #37 Timothy Liljegren
Starter: #60 Joseph Woll
#36 Jack Campbell
Extras: Rasmus Sandin, Wayne Simmonds, Joey Anderson
Injured: Ilya Mikheyev, Petr Mrazek
Buffalo Sabres Projected Lines
#53 Jeff Skinner – #72 Tage Thompson – #74 Rasmus Asplund
#28 Zemgus Girgensons – #20 Cody Eakin – #21 Kyle Okposo
#91 Drake Caggiula – #24 Dylan Cozens – #29 Vinnie Hinostroza
#96 Anders Bjork – #25 Arttu Ruostalainen – #15 John Hayden
#26 Rasmus Dahlin – #13 Mark Pysyk
#78 Jacob Bryson – #33 Colin Miller
#4 Will Butcher – #8 Robert Hagg
Starter: #80 Aaron Dell
#31: Dustin Tokarski
Injuries: Alex Tuch, Casey Mittelstadt, Henrik Jokiharju, Victor Olofsson, Craig Anderson