You wouldn’t have known it but Saturday night’s Hockey Night in Canada game against the Vancouver Canucks, was the first career NHL game for Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Travis Dermott. The 21-year-old Newmarket, Ontario product skated just over 12 minutes in his big-league debut, picking up his first career point, an assist, in the Leafs’ 3-2 shootout victory.
"I thought he was confident, moved the puck, skated good. He looks like he's got good hockey sense," Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said on Saturday evening. "It looked like the situation didn't intimidate him at all."
But it wasn’t just the Leafs’ bench boss who was impressed with Dermott this past weekend, former OHL opponent Mitch Marner has been impressed with Dermott for years. “He is a very annoying person to play against,” Marner said yesterday as he recalled the battles the two had during their respective times in the OHL with the London Knights had with Dermott’s Erie Otters. Marner, a former captain with the Knights, faced off against Dermott and the Otter for three season in the OHL and has vivid memories of going up against his now teammate.
“He plays the game physically, he plays the game smart. He will make you take penalties."
Marner and Dermott were selected by the Leafs in the 1st and 2nd round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft and to hear Marner tell it, he’s just happy that Dermott is on his side now. “It’s nice to be on the same side now. He’s just going to keep getting better as the games go and I’m excited to see how he does.”
It’s clear that Dermott’s play has earned him a spot on the Leafs’ blue line for the time being, but what happens when the injured Nikita Zaitsev returns from his foot injury? The Leafs have been searching for another capable top-four blue liner all season, have they finally found it in Dermott? If only… if ONLY he were a right-shot.
“In an ideal world, he would be a right-hand shot and he would be on the team all year (and not with the Toronto Marlies),” say Babcock.
So, until Dermott either decides to play right-handed or until a left-side defenceman on the Leafs slumps or goes down with injury, don’t hold your breath on Dermott being the solution to the team’s defensive woes. That being said, the youngster does appear to have a bright future in the organization. It’s not a question of if he’ll be an impact player, just a question of when.
Former Leafs defenceman hits the waiver wire
Another potential option for the Leafs back end is former Leafs defenceman Cody Franson who was waived by his current team the Chicago Blackhawks yesterday morning and is now available to any team in the entire NHL willing to take on his one-year, $1 million contract. And guess what? He shoots right-handed!
Franson has one goal and seven points in 23 games with the Blackhawks this season, but his underlying numbers suggest that he has an even bigger impact on the ice aside from his point production. Franson leads the Hawks in shot-rate, ahead of superstar players like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Bottom line: when Franson is on the ice, shots get through to the opposition’s net. That’s something that could be very valuable in Toronto.
Evidently teams are interested in Franson, so it’s likely he gets claimed before today’s noon deadline. In all probability, he’s done as a Chicago Blackhawk, but could he be back in the plans for the Leafs?