TORONTO – Maybe it was the fact he was coming off the heaviest, most intense season of his life: 88 games, 56 points, four playoff rounds, two leagues, one dream come true.
Maybe it was the glut of job-seeking wingers in the same boat as him: cheap ($775,000), versatile, and playing like nothing has been guaranteed.
That is, until Saturday night in Buffalo, when Moore scored an all-effort shorthanded goal, buzzed around like Sonic the Hedgehog on the Spezza-Gauthier line, and looked once again like the fearless kid who knocked Zdeno Chara on his keister during his NHL playoff debut in April.
“I welcomed him back after last game,” Babcock said with a grin.
“He’s kinda what I’m hoping [Leafs hopeful Dmytro] Timashov can be. They haven’t scored a lot at this level – I don’t know if they ever will – but they can penalty-kill, they can transport the puck, they can be heavy down low, they can get it back for the good players, they can play against really good players, they play with pace, and they seem to always be ready to go.
“So, if he can do that, he just improves himself and can move up the lineup.”
Earning a temporary promotion to Alexander Kerfoot’s third line, Moore potted his second goal of the pre-season Wednesday night in Toronto’s dominant 3-0 blanking of Montreal when he drove to the net and banged home a Rasmus Sandin rebound for the early winner.
The 24-year-old added an assist on a John Tavares strike and earned 14:31 in ice time, a notable bump from his 9:06 average during his 25-game big-league preview last winter.
“Anytime a guy like him comes off of finishing strong and being with us a lot in the second half last year only builds confidence,” Tavares said.
“Now getting rewarded and kinda finding his role, finding his rhythm and feeling more confident, you just see the effect he has in our lineup.”
Since Babcock’s arrival in Toronto, the coach could always count on two dependable worker bees to kill penalties and hound the puck. But now Connor Brown is playing a top-six role for Ontario’s other franchise and Zach Hyman’s ACL isn’t scheduled to be fully healed until November.
Moore, who was never drafted, doesn’t need to be told to jump through that window.
“It might be your best opportunity right out of the gate here,” Moore says. “The second you think your job is secure is the second it’s taken.”
So he’ll happily chase icings, throw his stocky body in front of point shots and kill penalties.
Timashov, whose two-way capabilities have quietly impressed the organization, openly looks up to Moore — a fellow 5-foot-10 left winger — as a guy who can help blaze his own trail to the bigs.
The 22-year-old Ukrainian was given a tryout on the fourth line Wednesday, but Babcock remains noncommittal if that spot, ultimately, will belong to Moore.
A natural lefty who lit up the American League for 23 goals in 46 games, it’s not a stretch to see Moore filling in as high as the top six, should injury necessitate.
“Mooresy’s a good player for us. I don’t know whether we’re going to use him on the fourth or on the third, or where we’re going to use him, but I thought he was strong for us tonight,” Babcock said.
“Everyone wants extra.”
Hmm… extra is synonymous with Moore.
“My confidence is higher that I can perform at this level and compete,” Moore says.
“Last year was about making a name for myself and enjoying it. This year is about taking that next step and becoming an important part of this team.”