The Toronto Maple Leafs made a pretty pedestrian-looking transaction this afternoon, assigning Kasperi Kapanen (Prospect Rank: 2) to the Toronto Marlies while calling up Frederik Gauthier (Prospect Rank: 23) to the big club. Neither player really requires much introduction at this point; both Kapanen and Gauthier got extended enough looks with the Maple Leafs over the two seasons prior to make themselves known to all but the absolute most casual of fans.
But the circumstances of the move are particularly interesting.
As expected now with the Gauthier call-up, Auston Matthews is absent from #Leafs practice
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) November 7, 2017
A lot was made of Auston Matthews’ “soreness” ahead of last night’s game against the Vegas Golden Knights. We all know what happened next (if not, check out The Aftermath); Matthews was just fine, picked up a well-earned assist, and the Leafs won in a shootout. But he’s absent again today, which gives credence to the idea that he’s playing through pain and might require his first game off of his career in the near future.
The Leafs, as such, would require a centre to fill in the void. Now, there are ways around this, like continuing to tinker with Patrick Marleau playing down the middle, or giving William Nylander some fuller-time responsibility in that spot, and those things could still happen. But with Kapanen failing to make a major impact in his look, swapping him out for insurance isn’t necessarily a bad thing. These all lead you to the following points, though:
- Again, to steal from the last paragraph; why not give Nylander a chance to show that he can play down the middle? Many believe that’s the long-term goal, so wouldn’t it make sense to let him get a full 60 minutes of spot duty in?
- What exactly is up with Matthews that has him in a game-time decision state? No one has been able to pinpoint an incident where he may have hurt himself, and I’m sure the Leafs are hoping to keep whatever ailment he has a secret from their opponents. All the same, one can’t help but be curious.
- Why not Eric Fehr? This especially rings true while he still has his window of waiver exemption. Fehr managed to work his way into the early-season lineup, the Leafs won all their games with him in the lineup, and the Marlies haven’t used him at all. Not that I think he’s a great option here, but I wonder what has convinced the team he hasn’t given how the last month or so went down.
- Why Gauthier? He’s only played in eight of the Marlies’ 12 games and has just two points, none of which have come in the last four games. Ben Smith, Chirs Mueller, and Colin Greening have all had more favourable starts to their respective years.
- If he does play, and he plays well, does this create more centre drama? We’ve gone from Moore/Aaltonen to Moore/Fehr to possibly Moore/Gauthier in the past six weeks. Is Dominic Moore’s job pretty much just to keep other bubble players honest?
Here are Frederik Gauthier's two points with the Marlies so far this year, both assists. pic.twitter.com/ihZzf0FHod
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) November 7, 2017
If I had to guess, I doubt Gauthier actually draws into the lineup unless there’s a dire urgency for a centre. While he looks up-to-speed after his gruesome leg injury from the spring, he’s not likely to be a better option than shuffling the group that’s already up with the team around until they can find four centres. Getting an idea of how far away he is from re-joining the NHL via practice scrimmages is likely the extent of the situation until further notice.
Then again, this team makes its share of odd lineup decisions, so it wouldn’t be all that shocking if they found a way to squeak him into the lineup against Minnesota tomorrow if Matthews is out.
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