The Toronto Maple Leafs will open their preseason schedule in St. John’s Newfoundland against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday and it will mark the debut of a number of new Leafs, new dad John Tavares and newly signed winger Mitch Marner.
The squad will include big Russian winger Egor Korshkov (who signed with the Leafs in the spring and played for the Toronto Marlies during the Calder Cup Playoffs), veteran center Jason Spezza, and defensemen Tyson Barrie and Jordan Schmaltz (acquired in trades over the summer), and will have Frederik Andersen and Kasimir Kaskisuo in goal.
Tavares, whose wife gave birth to his son Jace on September 11, skated for the first time on Sunday and was joined by Marner, who signed his six-year deal on Friday. The high scoring tandem will partner with winger Kasperi Kapanen, who will shift to the left side and fill in for the injured Zach Hyman.
Leafs head coach Mike Babcock will be in full evaluation mode throughout the eight-game exhibition schedule, with at least two forward spots up for grabs, a competition for the #2 job backing up Andersen, and the battle for depth spots on defense.
“Over time, it gets to be a mental grind. Even today is harder than the day before, but usually the guys who are better come to the forefront.” Babcock said. “So we keep watching every day, ‘can he play the power play, can he penalty kill, what role can you provide’, and then we’ll see what happens.”
Marlies leading scorer Jeremy Bracco, Pierre Engvall, Frederik Gauthier, Korshkov, Mason Marchment and Trevor Moore are in Tuesday’s lineup and are all in the mix for fourth line spots, while Kevin Gravel, Justin Holl, Martin Marincin and Schmaltz are all in the competition for the bottom pairing roles while Travis Dermott is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery.
The competition between veterans Michael Hutchinson and Michal Neuvirth may be no competition at all if the former Flyer is not healthy. The 31-year-old former Flyer battled injuries and was limited to 29 games over the last two seasons and did not participate in workouts on Sunday.
Agent Darren Ferris in an interview on TSN’s First Up morning show Monday indicated that Mitch Marner received a pair of offer sheet opportunities during the summer and that his client rejected both because he wanted to remain in Toronto.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported in July that the Columbus Blue Jackets explored the offer sheet option with the 22-year-old winger, which was later confirmed by The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline, but that the Jackets were only interested in signing Marner to an offer sheet for a maximum seven year deal, while Marner’s camp was more interested in something with a shorter term.
Portzline indicated that the Blue Jackets believed that Toronto would have been willing to match any deal extended to Marner and that he did not want to leave the Leafs, but was using the offer sheet threat as leverage to get a three-year bridge deal, which in the end did not come to pass.
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