Hardworking Tyler Ennis earns Maple Leafs’ Masterton nomination

Sean Couturier scored a beautiful goal against Frederik Andersen in the shootout and the Philadelphia Flyers defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs.

TORONTO — Bought out, discarded, and still lingering on the free agent market five days after the free-agent feeding frenzy had supposedly gobbled up all the players worth signing, Tyler Ennis — too small, too damaged, too ineffective — found himself reborn a Toronto Maple Leaf.

On Thursday, Ennis will awake to the news he is the Toronto’s selection for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, as the local chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association recognizes the forward’s perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

Taking a one-year, league-minimum ($650,000) contract from rookie GM Kyle Dubas on July 6, after being healthy-scratched in the playoffs and subsequently bought out by the offence-deprived Minnesota Wild, Ennis made the cut out of camp — thanks, in part, to William Nylander’s contract dispute — and has since proved himself as a hardworking, two-way contributor to the Leafs’ bottom six.

"He was going to put the work in and voluntarily bring himself here in the summer with our performance staff and strength and conditioning staff to get ready," Dubas said.

"He told us he knew he had a lot at stake moving forward, and we thought we could provide him with a great opportunity to get rolling again."


On Dec. 22, Ennis suffered a broken foot, but the 10-year veteran recovered six weeks later to record his first NHL hat trick in a win over Calgary.

Through injury, demotion and internal roster tussles, Ennis has amassed 47 games played this season, scoring 12 goals (a four-year high) and 18 points despite limited minutes.

"I’ve been spending a lot of time with him off the ice," Auston Matthews said. "The last couple years maybe didn’t go the way he wanted. Coming here, he [wanted] to earn his way on this team, and he’s been very motivated."

In Wednesday’s shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, the five-foot-nine sparkplug helped open the scoring with a beautiful, blind, behind-the-back setup for Connor Brown — hardly the work of fourth-liner.

Since being drafted as a late first-rounder by the Buffalo Sabres in 2008, the Edmonton native has continually been challenged to buck the perception he’s too small to play in the NHL.

He’s now appeared in 539 games and put up 276 points.

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Toronto’s signing of Nic Petan and the emergence of prospect Jeremy Bracco suggests an impending UFA like Ennis — very much due a pay bump and a line promotion — is unlikely to fit under the Leafs’ tightening salary cap next season, but he has over delivered on Dubas’s low-risk gamble and, flexing his scoring touch and perseverance, will be a sought-after depth commodity come July 1.

But first? After appearing in just one post-season game since 2011, Ennis is eager to make an impact for Toronto this spring.

"I couldn’t have asked for anything more," Ennis said. "Very exciting. I’m in a good situation."

Ultimately, Tyler Ennis may not win the Masterton — our money is on Islanders goaltender Robin Lehner — but as the Leafs’ deserving candidate, he certainly won’t have to settle for the league minimum next fall.

It’ll be a raise, and an opportunity, that has been well earned.

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