TORONTO – The same question that hung over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Day 1 of coaching camp nonetheless hangs over them on Recreation 4 of the common season — and should still be lingering come Recreation 40.
Who will set up himself as a top-line left winger on this group?
You don’t lose a confirmed $5.5-million asset with metronome-like consistency over the summer season and count on a seamless transition when plugging in a lower-profile ahead.
That Nick Ritchie has but to say himself because the moneypuck model of Zach Hyman mustn’t come as a large shock.
The most important Maple Leaf was not a precedence goal main as much as free company’s curtain-raising the best way quick fan favorite Michael Bunting was. Unqualified by the Boston Bruins, Ritchie was sought out by GM Kyle Dubas as a part of the “second wave” of UFAs.
To be honest to Ritchie, we’re solely 4 video games deep right here. And we’re just one sport deep into seeing how (if?) Ritchie can complement the dynamic duo of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner — 2020-21’s most harmful one-two punch outdoors of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
To a person, the Maple Leafs gamers and coaches are all saying constructive issues in regards to the franchise’s most costly low season acquisition (two years, $5 million) who doesn’t put on goalie pads.
Tender palms. Laborious hits. Goes to the online.
However the deeds — zero factors, a complete of 4 pictures — haven’t matched the phrases. (And the cheaper Bunting’s instantaneous influence hasn’t boosted Ritchie’s notion among the many fanbase.)
The Orangeville, Ont., native mentioned Tuesday that his sport is getting “progressively higher,” and it’s potential Ritchie’s absence of manufacturing is partly a symptom of a whole group whose offence must be chalked as much as small-sample-size dangerous.
Does anybody actually consider the Maple Leafs — an upper-tier possession group — will proceed to common simply two objectives an evening?
John Tavares hasn’t scored. Mitch Marner is using a 12-game aim drought courting again to final spring, his longest 0-fer since December 2018.
The levee might burst as early as Friday, when the San Jose Sharks roll into city drained, taking part in their third street sport in 4 nights.
“There’s been a lot of probabilities,” Ritchie says, “and so they’re going to go quickly.”
The season is barely every week previous, so it is sensible that the Leafs are selecting the carrot over the stick.
Ritchie is learning video and conversing with Matthews and Marner to get a greater understanding of the road’s movement, however he’s not incorrect when he says one of the best chemistry trainer is precise sport reps.
“He is looking for his place on the road and the way that works,” coach Sheldon Keefe says, patiently. “That is one thing that takes a while.”
The necessity for Ritchie to get rolling, nevertheless, speaks to a bigger situation.
Already dealt a severe blow with Hyman’s departure, Toronto’s left wing was additional wounded with Ilya Mikheyev breaking his thumb (out eight weeks) within the pre-season.
Now, high prospect Nick Robertson — a possible offensive callup with two factors in two AHL video games — has been sidelined 10 weeks with a nondisplaced fracture in his proper fibula.
“Firstly, I really feel for Nick. It’s powerful luck for him. He had a strong-looking camp and was excited to have an excellent season,” Keefe says.
“It’s totally unlucky, and you’re feeling for him. As onerous as he works and as dedicated as he’s, it is powerful to see that occur. However I additionally know due to how onerous he works, if anyone goes to work their method by way of that and bounce again, he’s.”
In order the injured left-wing choices heal up, the onus falls on Ritchie to seek out his groove.
Ritchie doesn’t must make the magic; he completely wants to enhance it.
Bear in mind, the Maple Leafs kicked off final season with Joe Thornton and Jimmy Vesey as their top-six left wings. By the point the video games mattered most, one had been waived and the opposite had nestled right into a fourth-line function.
If Ritchie isn’t up for the gig, Dubas and Keefe will look internally and externally to seek out somebody who’s.
One-Timers: Ondrej Kase missed apply Tuesday after making a painful shot block Monday. He’s nonetheless present process evaluation and, with a day of relaxation Wednesday, has not (but) been dominated out of Friday’s sport versus San Jose…. Monitoring Jack Campbell’s workload is paramount with Petr Mrazek (groin) sidelined for 2 weeks. He solely did about quarter-hour of labor Tuesday and left early as a result of Keefe was operating such an offence-heavy apply. Former Kingston Frontenacs goalie Brendan Bonello, 22, stood in to get pummeled by pucks…. Michael Hutchinson will get a begin throughout this weekend’s back-to-back.