In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll look at the status of young defenseman Travis Dermott and the likelihood that he’ll be leaving the Maple Leafs either at the upcoming 2021 Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft (my guess) or via trade after this coming season has been completed.
I’ll also look at how two young Maple Leafs’ prospects are doing at the 2021 World Junior Championship (WJC) currently being held in Edmonton. Both young Russians – Rodion Amirov and Mikhail Abramov – have played well during their games, however Abramov has been suspended as a consequence of his play during Team Russia’s game against Team Finland during the preliminary round.
Item One: Say Good-bye and Good Luck to Travis Dermott
In a recent Sportsnet article, Luke Fox made a simple and intelligent point about young defenseman Travis Dermott. He’s likely gone after this season. It’s a logical prediction. Other hockey writers have already done a good job considering the Maple Leafs’ lineup and who would be protected as the team heads toward the 2021 Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft. Most writers suggest that either defenseman Justin Holl or Dermott will become the Kraken’s choice from the Maple Leafs’ unprotected group.
I’ve been a Dermott supporter from early in his career. Almost two years ago, in February 2019, I wrote a post suggesting that Dermott was a rising star. So far, my projection hasn’t panned out. I still like him as a player. I have to believe other teams will like him as well.
Dermott was drafted by the Maple Leafs during the second round (34th overall) of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Although that’s usually considered low in the draft, when it comes to solid NHL career defensemen, it isn’t unusual to find a strong blue liner that low. For example, current Maple Leafs’ stalwart Jake Muzzin was picked during the fifth round.
Dermott’s skillset has improved during each step of his rise to the NHL; however, when he hit NHL ice, he seemed to plateau. Specifically, he hasn’t grown into a regular NHL role as quickly as many Maple Leafs’ fans expected or hoped. I still believe he has a chance to become a top-four defenseman. It might not, however, be with the Maple Leafs.
Fox and I share our appreciation for Dermott. In his article, although he believes Dermott will be leaving the team through the Expansion Draft, he states “To be honest, I take no joy in predicting this one.”
Fox also notes that “Dermott has one of the most genuinely upbeat spirits in the Leafs’ dressing room. He’s the type of guy you want to root for, regardless of the sweater on his back. But it was telling that the organization cut the 23-year-old defender’s pay this off-season, signing him to a one-year, $874,125 prove-it contract and importing competition for his ice time.”
Obviously, it’s tough for an organization to develop a defenseman for five years and then see him leave before his prime. However, the opportunity for Dermott to find a regular spot in the Maple Leafs’ lineup seems almost non-existent. He has the benefit of being able to play on the right side and might switch, but on his natural left side he’s in a long line up of players vying for jobs.
The left-side defensemen in front of Dermott on the team’s depth chart are Morgan Rielly, Muzzin, and T.J. Brodie. As Fox notes, that trio will be protected for the Seattle expansion draft. It also doesn’t help Dermott’s status with the Maple Leafs because Rasmus Sandin, who’s still on an entry-level contract, is also chasing him.
In addition, there’s no doubt Mikko Lehtonen, who was the 2019-20 KHL Defenceman of the Year and has been speculated to be the best defenseman who hasn’t yet played in the NHL, will be given a large measure of the remaining offensive opportunities. Lehtonen also has an advantage because he’s capable of quarterbacking the second Maple Leafs’ power play unit.
Those jobs might have been funneled towards Dermott, but no longer will. That leaves Dermott few opportunities to prove his value this season with the Maple Leafs. As Fox suggests, Dermott’s an attractive candidate to be drafted because he’s an RFA without arbitration rights.
Fox also suggests that, if the Kraken don’t choose Dermott during expansion, Dubas could trade Dermott in the summer to a team open to giving him a role that plays to his strengths. Like Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson during this past offseason, Dermott would become an attractive Maple Leafs’ trade piece.
Actually, for a young player in Dermott’s position, I think he should be excited to see what happens after the 2021-22 season. He might not be playing close to his home in Toronto, but he will be playing. For a youngster, that’s a very good place to be in. I wish him luck.
Item Two: Rodion Amirov Showing Well During World Junior Championship
During Team Russia’s 4-3 overtime win over Team Sweden in Wednesday’s preliminary-round game at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship (WJC), Rodion Amirov scored a goal and added two assists. He was named Russia’s player of the game thanks to that three-point contribution.
So far, Amirov has registered two goals and six points through four games at the 2021 tournament. The Maple Leafs selected the 19-year-old forward 15th overall in the 2020 NHL Draft. Team Russia’s win snapped what had been Team Sweden’s 54-game preliminary-round winning streak at the WJC.
Item Three: Maple Leafs’ Prospect Mikhail Abramov Suspended During WJC
The IIHF disciplinary panel suspended two players from the quarterfinal match between Team Russia and Team Germany on Jan. 2. One was Maple Leafs’ prospect Russia’s Mikhail Abramov and the other was Germany’s Justin Volek. Volek is undrafted.
Abramov was given a single-game suspension for slew-footing. During the second period of Team Russia’s preliminary-round victory over Sweden on Dec. 30, Abramov slid his right skate into the right skate of Sweden’s Arvid Cosmar with a kicking motion. The 19-year-old prospect, who’s playing currently with the Victoriaville Tigres, was drafted during the fourth round (115th overall) by the Maple Leafs during the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. So far, in this year’s WJC, he’s scored two assists in two games.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The upcoming Maple Leafs training camp carries with it a number of questions. Several interest me as a Maple Leafs’ hockey writer.
First, I’m interested in where Lehtonen might fit into the team’s defense. Second, I’m interested to see if Nick Robertson’s hard work and unending determination to make the Maple Leafs roster will prove worthwhile to both he and the team. Third, I’m interested in the play and status of Fredrik Andersen as the starting goalie.
Speaking of Andersen, the condensed NHL season calls for backup goalies to have a far greater impact than during a typical season. There are more back-to-back games; there will be no more need for rest; and, starting goalies won’t be able to play the percentage of games they’d during a regular season.
Given that Andersen’s on an expiring contract, and is playing for a new contract, it will be interesting to see how he comes out of the gates. If he’s hot, watch out.
There’s no doubt that, even given the core of elite Maple Leafs forwards and the positive changes on defense, Andersen could be the most important player of the Maple Leafs’ 2020-21 season.
Hockey’s coming. That’s a good thing for NHL fans in general and Maple Leafs fans in particular.