Report: Leafs sending a message to rookie Dermott?

This… this is strange. Thoughts?

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In his brief two game audition with the Toronto Maple Leafs over a week ago, rookie defenceman Travis Dermott acquitted himself quite well. The 21-year-old former 2nd round pick (34th overall) from he 2015 NHL Entry Draft made his NHL debut on Saturday, Jan 6th against the Vancouver Canucks and played just a couple nights later against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Head coach Mike Babcock was clearly impressed with the Newmarket native, heaping praise on him following his debut against the Canucks. "I thought he was confident, moved the puck, skated good. He looks like he's got good hockey sense," Babcock said at the time. "It looked like the situation didn't intimidate him at all."

It’s clear that Dermott has earned himself a spot on the Leafs’ bullion, at least until the injured Nikita Zaitsev returns. But, with the Leafs off for five days during their league-mandated bye week last week, Dermott was loaned to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies along with Frederik Gauthier in order to get some playing time in. 

Now that the bye week is over Dermott has been returned to the big club and is ready to get back on the ice with the Leafs. Except… something’s different. That #3 that you got used to seeing on Dermott’s back? It’s been replaced with a #23… and he’s not exactly sure why.

That’s… odd. The Leafs just decided to change his number without consulting him or asking him for his preference? Is this standard practice? It’s pretty commonplace during training camp and pre-season, but during the NHL regular season?

Maybe it’s nothing, but maybe it’s also a sign of a move to come? For what it’s worth, Dermott wears #8 for the Marlies but Connor Carrick currently wears that number on the Leafs’ roster. Whatever the reason for the change, Dermott’s not letting it phase him.

The Leafs return to the ice tonight as they leave their bye week in the dust and take on the St. Louis Blues. Dermott is expected to draw back into the lineup on a pairing with veteran Roman Polak

Marner already a big Dermott fan

It wasn’t just the Leafs’ bench boss who was impressed with Dermott earlier this month, 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.”

Again, 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 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),” said 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.