Future looks bright for Maple Leafs’ Travis Dermott

Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock and Auston Matthews discuss their hard-luck loss to the Jackets, which was basically the hockey gods getting even with them for their previous stolen win.

TORONTO — Rookie defenceman Travis Dermott has one thing working against him, and it’s not his youth or inexperience.

The 21-year-old Dermott has played two games for the Toronto Maple Leafs after being summoned from the American Hockey League’s Marlies on Jan. 5. But he would have started the season in the NHL instead of the minors if he wasn’t left-handed.

"In an ideal world he’d be a right-hand shot and he would have been on the team all year," said Leafs coach Mike Babcock, who has always preferred his defenceman to play on the same side as their shooting hand.

Dermott replaced Connor Carrick on the right side instead of his usual left and played 16:21 Monday night in a 3-2 overtime loss to Columbus. That was the fourth-most even-strength ice time of Toronto’s blue liners and a four-minute increase from his debut two nights earlier against Vancouver.

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Despite only appearing in two games, one on the off side, Babcock has been impressed with what he has seen in the 34th overall pick from the 2015 NHL draft and thinks that Dermott can eventually play a bigger role with the Leafs than filling in on the bottom pair.

"What can he evolve into? You always hope every guy you bring in here is going to play in your top four, going to play 22 minutes a night, be safe defensively and move the puck. That’s what you’re hoping for," said Babcock.

"We’re going to find out whether he can play or not over time, we’ll just keep watching him and see what happens,"

Dermott, who picked up an assist in a 3-2 shootout win against the Canucks, says he’s approached each game with a different mentality.

"Personally coming in I think it was a pretty good first two games, kind of feel out maybe what I need to work on to stay in the lineup," said the Newmarket, Ont., native.

"First one was just getting the nerves out, experiencing my first game was bigger than anything else. Last game I came in with the mindset that I have to work."

Dermott, listed at six foot and 208 pounds, says that he hasn’t lost any confidence being the new guy in the room and believes that if he sticks to his skills — skating and moving the puck — he shouldn’t have a problem transitioning full-time into the NHL.

Defenceman Morgan Rielly agrees.

"He’s a fantastic skater, moves the puck extremely well. I think he’s been above and beyond expectations and has a very bright future," said Rielly.

"You can tell right away from his first shift he’s extremely confident, as he should, extremely good player."

Dermott was heating up with the Marlies prior to his call-up, with two goals and eight assists in his last six games, and led all Marlies defencemen in points with 17 in 26 games.

Much has gone right for Dermott at the minor-league level. Even a high-ankle sprain last season in his first year of pro hockey that cost him 13 games is viewed as a positive by the young prospect.

"I can’t say it was too much of a negative," said Dermott. "I wouldn’t say I was overweight but I really toned my body when I was injured and I think that time was good for me. I wouldn’t go back and change it."

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Dermott’s work ethic is another example of what Babcock has liked so far, highlighting Dermott’s off-season training as a reason why he can have success at the next level.

"No. 1, every time I came in here this summer he was working like (Zach) Hyman and (Connor) Brown….. so that’s going to separate you from the group.

"Second thing is he has skill and can skate. Hasn’t played with us a ton the defensive side and the boxouts, all those things are harder. Little things like that you get better as time goes on."

Toronto hosts Ottawa on Wednesday before starting a five-day bye week. It’s possible that Dermott could be loaned back to the Marlies during that time to keep his legs fresh, with another recall before the Leafs resume play next Tuesday against St. Louis.

"Whatever happens, happens," said Dermott. "If they send me down hopefully I can be back as quick as possible."

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