Offensive depth emerges as a key for Maple Leafs through the preseason

Russian winger Ilya Mikheyev highlights a strong bottom-six forward contingent for Toronto

Toronto Maple Leafs winger Trevor Moore celebrates a goal with his teammates. @mapleleafs/Twitter

After a 5-0 win over the Detroit Red Wings at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday night, there was a seemingly endless string of positives to reflect on for the Toronto Maple Leafs as they finished off the pre-season.

The power play was lethal, scoring on three of four opportunities, all of the goals coming within an eight minute second period flurry.

Defence and goaltending were both pristine, limiting the Red Wings to just 16 shots as Frederik Andersen put up another shutout.

And the stars all looked just as dominant as you’d expect: Auston Matthews tallied a goal and two assists, John Tavares picked up a goal and assist, while William Nylander and Andreas Johnsson both scored once.

But perhaps more surprising – and interesting – was the emergence of the Maple Leafs’ depth, not only in Saturday night’s victory but over the course of the entire preseason.

“We’ve made some real good additions obviously this summer,” head coach Mike Babcock said after the game. “(Ilya) Mikheyev has a chance to be a real hockey player.

“I think the growth of a guy like (Rasmus) Sandin is real. (Trevor Moore) looks like a hockey player now which is positive. (Frederik Gauthier) is way better which is positive.”

The 24-year-old Russian has been particularly intriguing.

Mikheyev spent the last four seasons in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) before signing a one-year deal with the Maple Leafs this summer. He scored 23 goals and 45 points in 62 games for Omsk Avangard, while adding another four goals and 11 points in 13 playoff games.

Expectations for the 6-foot-2 winger were ratcheted up when his agent, Dan Milstein, claimed that Maple Leafs fans would be “in for a real treat” with Mikheyev.

He hasn’t found the score sheet yet, but through four preseason games it’s clear that the KHL import has become more confident with each passing period. He tallied 10 shots and eight scoring chances through the preseason and even showed some utility by playing on the special teams.

“You saw him create a couple dangerous chances today when he’s flying down the wing,” Nylander said. “For sure he’s grown. He can (penalty kill) for us too so he’s a good player.”

It wasn’t the first time that the new Leaf earned praises from his teammates, either.

“He plays a lot like Pavel Datsyuk,” Matthews said of Mikheyev the week prior, following the Maple Leafs 3-0 win over Buffalo on Sep. 20. “He’s really shifty, strong on the puck, really good on his edges, so I was really impressed.”

Mikheyev looks to be penciled in on Toronto’s third line alongside Moore and Alexander Kerfoot. He’ll aim to finally hit the score sheet on Wednesday as the Maple Leafs head to Ottawa to take on the Senators in their 2019-20 season opener.

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Posted: Sep 28 2019 10:23 pm
Filed under: Hockey Sports Toronto Maple Leafs