The Leafs organization made a few roster moves official this morning, spanning across all three of their clubs. Nikita Soshnikov, Frederik Gauthier, and Martins Dzierkals will all move locker rooms this morning as a result.
Soshnikov to the Leafs
This is an even better angle on Nikita Soshnikov's goal than the highlight pack had. Obscene angle and he's literally getting slashed as he buries it. pic.twitter.com/oDfJwUrRy2
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) November 8, 2017
The biggest piece here is the recall of Nikita Soshnikov from the Marlies to the Maple Leafs. Without doubt, this is a paper security move, as Soshnikov has a KHL-out clause in his contract that activates if he plays in the AHL at any point after tomorrow.
As I wrote in greater depth last week, I don’t think that there was any serious, imminent threat to him leaving. The KHL season is about halfway done, the big teams have their rosters basically locked in, and the little teams are unlikely to be able to toss him a contract worth flying back for at this stage of the season. But there’s likely a “better safe than sorry” mentality happening here, especially since this is a player that the team likes.
Last year, Toronto played 56 games for the big club. While he managed just nine points, his regular linemates weren’t exactly offensive stalwarts for this level (Matt Martin and Ben Smith), and he was one of the best players in the league in limiting shots against on the penalty kill, something that is sure to get you in Mike Babcock’s good books. This year, he’s combined that defensive skillset with an offensive touch that many believed him to already be capable of on the Marlies, scoring 12 points in his last 14 games.
That was enough to put the 24-year-old in the second seed on a team that has a lot of offensive depth at their level, and it comes with a degree of consistency too; unlike your typical “scores in bunches” type forward, Soshnikov has scored those points over the span of 11 games, going without a point just three times. It’ll be hard to find him a spot to play regular games on this Leafs roster, but he’s certainly playing like an NHLer right now, so it’s not like the call-up is completely without merit.
Gauthier to the Marlies
To make roster space for this move, Frederik Gauthier heads back down to the Marlies. That’s not a move with a ton of consequence for the 22-year-old, besides stacking up NHL paycheques. While the Leafs hope for him to become a big, play-driving, dependable fourth line centre, his recent call-up was more to act as insurance if centres other than Auston Matthews had to take a night off.
With the Leafs not playing until Thursday, there’s a good chance that Matthews cuts his streak of maintenance games off at three. This would make Gauthier a redundancy to have up already, but needing the spot removes all doubt. He’ll re-join the Marlies and continue his road back to true 100% health.
Dzierkals to the Solar Bears
Lastly, Leafs prospect Martins Dzierkals will finally start playing some hockey games soon. The AHL transaction sheet confirms that the 20-year-old winger has been assigned to the Orlando Solar Bears of the ECHL.
To many, the Latvian’s lack of reps was a bit of a mystery. Dzierkals wasn’t even regularly participating in practices, instead opting for separate ice time with skills coaches. His games were spent in the gym, rather than on the ice. The answer to why it took so long for this crossroads to be decided on is likely a grey one; partially an opportunity for the coaching staff to groom Dzierkals into game shape, partially a chance for him to decide whether he wanted to stay nearby in Orlando or follow in Vladimir Bobylev’s footsteps and take the year to Europe instead.
Whatever the case is, the Solar Bears could desperately use his help. They’re just 2-6-2 to start the season, and while a few of Toronto’s signings (particularly Josh Winquist, Max Novak, and Kristian Pospisil in limited games) have found a way to produce, many have struggled and have not been helped at all by an awful run of goaltending by veteran Cal Heeter, who has a 0.852 save percentage through eight games.
I’d assume that the puck-stopping will shake itself out in due time, so having an extra bit of firepower to turn those newfound close games into wins will be key to a recovery hot streak. One hopes that Dzierkals is ready for that challenge.
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