Amidst all the Nazem Kadri drama that has taken place over the past week, one unusual suspect has quietly found himself penciled into Ron Wilson’s opening night lineup as a result.
That player is 26-year-old Toronto Maple Leaf forward Tim Brent.
When Wilson announced with just a week remaining before opening night, that Monday’s roster for a matchup against the Buffalo Sabres is close to what should be expected for the season opener, Brent found himself anchoring the third line between Colby Armstrong and Luca Caputi.
“Timmy’s played very well and deserves to be in the lineup,” Wilson told reporters Monday morning. “So far, we’re very pleased with him. Some lines are in ink and others are in pencil.”
Tyler Bozak, Mikhail Grabovski and Christian Hanson seem to have three of the four centre positions locked down, leaving John Mitchell, Kadri and Brent to fight over the final spot.
Mitchell has been uninspiring in his brief pre-season stint, and is by no means a guarantee to make the team despite playing 60 games with the Leafs last season.
While Brian Burke and company had high hopes for Kadri coming into camp, his lackluster play has all but punched his ticket to the American Hockey League, giving the versatile Brent an opportunity to showcase he belongs in the NHL.
“A lot of good hockey players are still here,” Brent told reporters at the pregame skate. “It’s down to a few guys now, but at the same time, you have to bring it every night and make it hard on the coaching staff. That’s the focus I’ve had, make it hard on them to send me down or take me out.”
The Cambridge native doesn’t possess the offensive tools of Kadri, but he brings a good two-way game with a touch of sandpaper—an ideal combination for a checking-line centre.
But despite his defence-first approach, Brent proved last year he can still chip in on the score sheet.
After missing the first 42 games of the season with the Toronto Marlies last year, Brent put together a strong second half, collecting 13 goals and 28 points in 33 games played.
He flashed some of those skills in Monday’s 5-4 win over the Sabres.
Brent had a few quality scoring chances throughout the game, but none better than a one-time attempt from the slot in the first period that was swiftly kicked aside by the right toe of goaltender Patrick Lalime.
The 6-foot-0 pivot also found himself killing penalties alongside linemate Armstrong, and was on the ice for a crucial faceoff with less than three minutes to play.
His lone gaffe of the evening came on the Sabres third goal, when Brent was unable to tie up Derek Roy in front of the goal, as the Buffalo forward managed to get his stick on a point shot and deflect it past Jonas Gustavsson.
He finished the night a minus-1 over 16:41 of ice time.