Column, Conor Timmins, Fraser Minten, Martin Jones, Matthew Knies, News and Rumors, Toronto Maple Leafs

Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Jones, Knies, Minten & Timmins

On Saturday (Sept. 30), the Toronto Maple Leafs won their third straight NHL preseason game by defeating the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 on the road. Matthew Knies, Fraser Minten, and Nicholas Robertson all scored goals for Toronto. Goalie Martin Jones had a strong game.

The key to the win was a combination of Toronto’s strong defensive play and the performance of their veteran players, the contributions of young forwards, and strong goalie play. The team might have been outshot by the Canadiens, but they took advantage of timely opportunities. As well, they thwarted the Canadiens’ offence time after time.

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In the game, although being pushed hard, the Maple Leafs’ young forwards and more experienced defence found a way to hang in there and win. By engaging in a strong forecheck and strong puck control (especially during the first period) in their offensive zone, they were able to create and take advantage of opportunities. They didn’t have a ton of shots, but they made their scoring chances count.

In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I take a short look at some of the game action and offer some commentary and news emerging from the team.

Item One: The Maple Leafs Young Forwards Carried the Scoring

Matthew Knies opened the scoring for Toronto seven minutes into the first period, slipping a wraparound attempt past Montreal’s goaltender, Sam Montembeault. Despite the Canadiens’ pressure, the Maple Leafs added a second goal on the power play, with Fraser Minten capitalizing on a two-man breakaway after a defensive zone turnover.

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The Maple Leafs sealed the game with a third goal late in the second period, as Nick Robertson, who had been given a penalty for goalie interference, flew into the play fresh out of the penalty box, and scored on a breakaway. [He’s been great during the preseason, but snakebit. He needed that goal.]

Item Two: Maple Leafs’ Defenseman Conor Timmins Suffers Lower-Body Injury

Sadly, after a great preseason, Maple Leafs’ defenceman Conor Timmins is facing misfortune. During Friday’s game against the Canadiens, he suffered a lower-body injury late in the third period. Now there are some concerns about the injury’s impact on his upcoming season.

Conor Timmins Toronto Maple Leafs
Conor Timmins, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Timmins had been making a strong impression during training camp. He’s showcased his offensive skills with two goals and four assists in his first two preseason games and he’s played solid enough defence. However, the unfortunate injury casts uncertainty over his immediate future on the ice.

Related: Maple Leafs Conor Timmins: Odd Man Out

Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe confirmed Timmins’ injury and stated that he would miss some time. Timmins’ absence will undoubtedly be felt by the team, given growing hopes for his contributions this season. Here’s hoping for a swift return to action for this promising young defenceman. 

Item Three: Maple Leafs Defense Is Looking Better than Expected

The Maple Leafs’ defence was supposed to be the weak link this season. However, although it’s still preseason and some things must be taken with a grain of salt, the team’s defence has not looked bad. Saturday’s win over the Canadiens was a case in point. 

The defensive corps includes several established players, including Morgan Rielly, T.J. Brodie, John Klingberg, Jake McCabe, and Mark Giordano. Thus far during the preseason, Timothy Liljegren has been giving the team quiet and effective minutes. As well, the competition for the seventh and eighth spots on the blue line is fierce. All this together gives head coach Keefe some tough decisions. And, that’s not a bad thing.

Timothy Liljegren Toronto Maple Leafs
Timothy Liljegren, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Into this competitive mix come players like Timmins and Simon Benoit. Benoit played his first game on Saturday, and not much happened on his watch that was negative. He’ll get further chances with Timmins healing his injury. While the injury is bad news for Timmins, it offers Benoit a great opportunity to step in and prove his worth. Finding a spot with the extra team’s defencemen won’t be effortless for any of the bottom-pairing players. 

Item Four: Coach Keefe Loves What Fraser Minten Brings

One of the huge surprises of the team’s training camp and preseason play has been the maturity and leadership Minten brings. After Saturday’s game, Keefe offered a glowing assessment of his play. What the head coach dwelt on was Minten’s maturity, leadership, and ability to contribute not only on the ice but also in terms of communication and coaching.

Related: Abruzzese & Minten: Maple Leafs Most Underrated Prospects 

Minten’s growth and development have been remarkable. While he’s known for his intelligence both on and off the ice, his growth has been astounding since he came to the team just over a year ago. He’s an exciting prospect for the Maple Leafs future.

Coach Keefe had high praise and highlighted the professional qualities that make him stand out. After Saturday’s game, Keefe was asked to comment on his young center. His list of accolades was so long and detailed that I’ve included much of it here.

Fraser Minten Toronto Maple Leafs
Fraser Minten, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As Keefe reviewed, “It is a long list (of Minten’s strengths), quite honestly. There is the old cliché ‘mature beyond his years,’ but he is that.

It is not only just how he plays, but on the bench, he is the most talkative guy. There is not a lot of fluff in what he is saying. He is directing traffic. He is coaching, in a lot of ways. It was the same in Traverse City from the reports we got from John Gruden. It is the same here. He is engaged in the game.

His leadership qualities are what really stand out, and then when he gets on the ice, he competes, he is in the right spots, and he can make a play.

Related: Carey Price: Saying Farewell to a Canadiens Legend

He is a great player. We were excited about him when we got him in the draft, but from what I have seen of his development from last year until now, it has been remarkable.”

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

The Maple Leafs and Canadiens are set to face each other for the third and final preseason game in Toronto on Oct. 2. This matchup concludes their preseason series and gives both teams one last chance to fine-tune their preparations before the regular season begins. 

One thing that will differ is that it’s likely the Maple Leafs will make cuts either today (Oct. 1) or tomorrow (Oct. 2) prior to the game. Who knows? Is there a chance Minten or Ethan Cowan will get one last look? 

Although it’s unlikely, how great would it be to see both young players in the team’s lineup this season? But then, that’s thinking with a fan’s heart and not with the logic of player development in mind.

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