The Toronto Maple Leafs took to the ice at Gale Centre Arena in Niagara Falls, ON for the first of three days of the 2018-19 training camp and while there were 73 players participating in drills and scrimmages, head coach Mike Babcock and his staff put together some familiar combinations on the first day of on-ice work.
Nazem Kadri (who will likely continue to be the Leafs shutdown center) skated with Babcock favorite Connor Brown and Josh Leivo, new Leaf center John Tavares played with Zach Hyman and Mitch Marner and the defensive pairings had a familiar look with Morgan Rielly playing with partner Ron Hainsey and Jake Gardiner playing alongside Nikita Zaitsev.
On what could be considered the club’s top line, veteran Tyler Ennis replaced the absent William Nylander, on the right side with Auston Matthews and Patrick Marleau.
Ennis is looking to bounce back after being bought out of the final year of his five-year, $23 Million contract by the Minnesota Wild. The 28-year-old signed a one-year deal with Toronto worth $650,000 and while Nylander is still in a contract impasse with the club, the former Buffalo Sabre is going to enjoy playing with his talented linemates.
“It was fun to be back on the ice and playing with (Matthews and Marleau) is pretty entertaining.” Ennis said. “The stuff Auston does is special and if you could emulate a few things he does, it’s good for the whole team.”
The diminutive forward was a top six forward early in his tenure with the Sabres (scoring 20 goals three times in 2011, 2014 and 2015), but injuries took their toll and he missed 80 games in last two seasons in Buffalo before being dealt to the Wild. He still has the speed to keep up the pace in the current NHL and jumped at the opportunity to play for a contending team and in a division he knows well.
“I have to be shifty, obviously I’m not the biggest guy and I’ve learned growing up just to always be moving and shake defenders and create space for myself.” Ennis said. “I’m familiar with (the Atlantic Division). I played against these teams my whole career. I’m excited to get back to the East and show people what I can do.”
Ennis is trying to make an impression on the Leafs brass and during a head-to-head matchup of the Tavares and Matthews lines, the vet blocked a Marner shot.
“My shot is probably not that hard from that angle, (but) I saw that he blocked it and it looked like it got him in the hand, but he said it got him in the padding of his pants.” Marner said. “I was just making sure that he was all good and told him he was an absolute psycho for blocking a shot.”
Depending on how long Nylander remains away from camp, Ennis may get the opportunity to show that he can be a reliable option who can play a fourth line energy role as well as moving up in the lineup when necessary.
In the scrimmage, Team Blue won over Team White 2-1 in a shootout. High scoring blueliner Martin Marincin scored to give Blue the lead, Pierre Engvall tied the game late to force a shootout and Matthews goal in the opening round of the shootout stood up.
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