In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll look at some of the news and rumors of the organization. Specifically, I’ll look at young Joseph Woll and share that he was sought after at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft by the Edmonton Oilers. Second, I’ll comment on Ondrej Kase’s value to the team and consider where he might best play.
Item One: Was Goalie Joseph Woll Almost an Oiler?
Joseph Woll has won his first two NHL games in the net, backing up for Maple Leafs’ starter Jack Campbell. It wasn’t supposed to be his year; and, unless things go wrong on a big scale, Woll’s chance to be an NHL regular will have to wait for a while. However, Woll is firmly planted in the Maple Leafs’ organization, and that’s good for the team.
In a recent 32 Thoughts column, hockey insider Elliotte Friedman revealed that: “During last Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada, Craig MacTavish said that if Toronto hadn’t taken Joseph Woll, the Oilers were going to. The Maple Leafs took him 62nd overall. Edmonton was next.”
Now that Woll has won his first two NHL games, does that mean he could be ready for prime time? With Petr Mrazek out for most of the season so far with an injury, that leaves Jack Campbell getting almost every start in the net. Is Woll ready to step up as a viable backup?
Another question is what happens after this season if things continue as they’re going? The Maple Leafs will re-sign Campbell to an extension, which I expect to happen sooner rather than later. Obviously, Kyle Dubas’ plan was to have both Campbell and Mrazek together for the next two seasons to give Woll (or someone else) more time to hone their craft in the minors; but, have injuries and Woll’s emergence changed that plan?
This situation will be fun to watch.
Item Two: Where to Play Ondrej Kase?
A few things about Ondrej Kase make him one of the surprise pickups of the Maple Leafs’ offseason. First, and most important, he’s healthy. Before this season began, I wasn’t alone in believing that Kase was a Maple Leafs’ investment in the future and a long-term project that wouldn’t manifest itself during this season. I thought he would likely spend the season on LTIR. Not so. While Kase might be one hit away from a career-ending injury, I suppose that can be said about almost every NHL player.
Second, Kase is a tireless worker. When you look up “200-foot-game” in a hockey encyclopedia, his picture is by that definition. He’s a determined player who works hard every shift. He’s a great partner with David Kampf on the third line; and, although it’s supposed to be a shutdown line, the fact that Kase, Kampf, and their usual line partner Pierre Engvall are all at an even plus/minus is quite impressive.
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Third, Kase has an offensive flair that gives that third line an ability to provide supplemental scoring. Neither Kampf nor Kase are lighting it up on the scoresheet, but they can score – and quickly. The goal that Nick Ritchie started in the New York Islanders’ game was as quick a pass-pass-score goal as I’ve seen in a long time.
Given Kase’s flexibility and complementary offensive skillset, that leaves the question of where to play him in the lineup. My guess is that he’ll stay with Kampf to create that shutdown third line Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe has hoped to build for as long as he’s been the coach.
However it works out, there’s no doubt that Kase has settled in well on the Maple Leafs’ third line and with the team in general. From what Keefe says about his play with Kampf, even teammates are lifted by the third line’s success.
Item Three: NHL Life for Joey Anderson and Travis Dermott (and Others)
Life for most of the Maple Leafs’ players seems pretty routine. They practice, and they play. But for some of the younger Maple Leafs’ players life seems a bit more difficult – at least to me. For example, forward Joey Anderson keeps moving back and forth between the AHL Marlies and the NHL’s Maple Leafs.
He’s constantly flipping rosters. However, he hasn’t yet played in an NHL game this season. He’s injury insurance.
The Maple Leafs recalled Anderson from AHL Toronto for Sunday’s game with the Islanders. He had been sent down to the Marlies on November 15 after being a healthy scratch for five games earlier in November. Anderson’s clearly a depth option for the Maple Leafs. He’s close to playing but doesn’t.
In the same way, young defenseman Travis Dermott (and others like Timothy Liljegren, Rasmus Sandin, and sometimes Justin Holl) keep moving in and out of the lineup. Head coach Keefe is obviously taking advantage of a situation where the team seems to have seven quality defensemen who each could be playing at the NHL level, and have.
Sometimes Dermott sits; sometimes he plays. Sometimes another young defenseman goes in; sometimes, that player joins others in the press box. I can only assume that’s frustrating because every player wants to play and believes he can contribute.
NHL hockey is a professional game; and, it’s part of the life of being a younger player. It struck me, when Wayne Simmonds talked about being a healthy scratch, just what that feels like. I can only imagine.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
One issue that has not been sorted out on the team yet is what to do with Nick Ritchie. To my eyes, he’s been playing well. He just isn’t finding scoresheet success. Fortunately, coach Keefe hasn’t given up on him and keeps trying him in different spots on the lineup.
I thought Ritchie looked good as part of the third-line checking unit. He even looked quicker than he had as a top-six player with Auston Matthews. However, I think the jury’s still out on where Ritchie will land. The situation especially gets complicated with Ilya Mikheyev coming back soon from his broken thumb. It’s a good complication, but a complication nonetheless.
I can’t even guess where Ritchie will play during the next Maple Leafs’ game on Wednesday against the Los Angeles Kings. It will be fun to see.
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf