Marleau adds competition to Leafs camp
Toronto has so many good wingers now, someone is going to be the odd man out
NIAGARA FALLS With training camp held in the shadow of big casinos, Mike Babcock can gamble a bit with the one forward placement sure to be his most contentious call.
Namely, deployment of expensive new toy Patrick Marleau and the fallout for other wingers.
Babcock, the Toronto Maple Leafs head coach, has not challenged the math of 10 NHL-class forwards chasing nine jobs at camp, but as of this weekend, he must start moving to address it.
When the scrimmage teams were unveiled Friday at the Gale Centre, two lines remained intact from last year — Auston Matthews between Zach Hyman and William Nylander and Tyler Bozak centring James van Riemsdyk and Mitch Marner.
That put Marleau, a high-scoring left winger who could easily fit beside top gun Matthews, with Leo Komarov, who switched to the right side. Nazem Kadri, held out of scrimmage play because of a minor injury, would’ve been in the middle. Frederick Gauthier was filling in Friday.
For an afternoon, at least, that made Connor Brown the unlucky 10th man. He began last season with the fourth line but worked his way up.
“Matthews’ line was really good for us in the playoffs, Bozak’s group had a good year, Naz had a good jump in his game,” Babcock said. “I told Patty when he got here that (Leo) has been with (Kadri and Brown) basically the whole time and if that can work for us, it would be really good.
“We’ll talk about those things and see what’s best for the team. These guys will show us who they play best with. I’m just going to watch. It’s a good problem to have.”
Brown ended up with Finnish free agent centre Miro Aaltonen for Friday’s session. Marleau, with his 38th birthday coinciding with camp starting, surprised all his new teammates with his speed.
“Age surely has not affected him,” Babcock said. “The thing that leads you in this league is your legs. You can’t make the plays fast enough because you don’t get there quick enough. (He’s) not in that situation.”
Marleau said he wouldn’t pull dressing room rank and ask the coaching staff for a favourable line assignment
“(Shifting around) has happened throughout my career, so I’m pretty comfortable doing it. Every coach and every team wants to get their lines set and have success that way. If things are moving around, that means there are things not going right somewhere in the lineup or an injury. But there are things that happen during the season and things get shuffled around.
“(I like) guys who are hockey smart, guys who can skate and move the puck, a lot of give-and-gos and be able to support each other on the ice,” Marleau said. “Before I signed here, I looked at their team and all the great players, so you know you’re going to be playing with good players, no matter whom.”
Babcock didn’t want to overwhelm Marleau in his first few days on a new team after almost 20 years with the same organization in San Jose.
“Basically, it’s getting him in here, getting him going. We have all of September to get that figured out and be ready for Oct. 4 in Winnipeg,” Babcock said.
“We have a plan we want to implement over the few days here. Eighty per cent is the same we did last year. Some things are new (or) the nuances of things you were doing. You have a new group and you never know until you get your own players together.”
Marleau is doing his best to sop up the Leafs’ system.
“I’m definitely paying a lot more attention to things that are being put up on the board,” he said. “I give it two or three looks, ask a lot of questions just to see what they expect from me in certain situations.”
Marner had a goal and assist in the scrimmage game and didn’t miss a beat the past week when he, Bozak and van Riemsdyk reunited for summer skates.
“We’re all excited to be back and scrimmaging with those two has been fun again,” Marner said. “We want to get our legs back. We’re obviously not playing against other teams yet, but everyone is making a point that they want to be here. It’s competitive no matter who you are out against.
“It’s an important time for us to get our chemistry back as well. Hopefully, we’re together for a long time this year.”
Maple Leafs forward Patrick Marleau, left, broke away from Maple Leafs defenceman Calle Rosen during training camp action in Niagara Falls, Ont., Friday, proving this 38-year-old still brings plenty of speed and quickness to the table.