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The Toronto Maple Leafs will be looking to win their second straight against the Minnesota Wild at Air Canada Centre on Wednesday after struggling on their recent road swing, but for the first time since being drafted first overall in June 2016, they will be playing without center Auston Matthews.
The Leafs leading scorer has been bothered recently by an unspecified upper body injury. Matthews missed the morning skate prior to the club’s 4-3 win over the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday, but did not miss the game and assisted on James van Riemsdyk’s first period goal.
The Calder Trophy winner skipped practice on Tuesday and head coach Mike Babcock indicated after the optional morning skate that Matthews would not play against the Wild (5-6-2), who have lost their last two games and are ahead of only Edmonton and Arizona in the Western Conference.
Matthews is day-to-day with the injury and could return for the first of back-to-back/home-and-home games against the division rival Boston Bruins on Friday.
Veteran Patrick Marleau, who played up the middle during the Leafs swing through California, will be at center on Wednesday along with Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri and Dominic Moore, but it is uncertain what line combinations will be used.
Frederik Andersen (8-6-0, 3.43 GAA, .895 Sv %) makes the start in goal for Toronto and Devan Dubnyk (4-5-1, 3.03 GAA, .907 Sv %) goes for Minnesota.
The Leafs have been fairly adept at managing their assets in the Lou Lamoriello era, not losing anyone they truly valued on waivers. Last season, Toronto placed Josh Leivo on injured reserve early on and kept the winger on their 23-man roster through the whole season, since he was not exempt from being claimed by another team.
They are doing the same thing this season with Leivo and also have a situation with winger Nikita Soshnikov that may force them to make a trade in the very near future.
The 24-year-old Leivo’s two-year contract expires at the end of this season. If he does not not play 80 games (he currently has 43 NHL games played) before the year ends, he can become a Group 6 unrestricted free agent and the Leafs will lose him for nothing.
reported on TSN’s Insider Trading Tuesday that the 24-year-old Soshnikov has a clause in his entry-level contract that he can return to play in the KHL if he is not on an NHL roster by November 15.
Soshnikov has three goals and six assists in 11 games for the Leafs AHL affiliate and is a favorite of Babcock, so it is likely that Toronto will recall him from the Marlies before next Tuesday, but it is possible that the Leivo or Soshnikov situation could spur a trade.
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