TORONTO — The battle for the last remaining spot on the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ roster came down to two Swedish defenceman, and in the end Andreas Borgman outmuscled countryman Calle Rosen for the honour.
Borgman skated on Toronto’s third pairing alongside Connor Carrick at the team’s final practice before coach Mike Babcock had to submit his 23-man roster to the league by Tuesday’s 5 p.m. ET deadline.
Babcock said Borgman’s size advantage was a deciding factor.
"I just think the biggest thing is, when you’re heavy… my buddy is a fireman and he always tells me (when) you drive a big vehicle, no matter how many air bags are in the little vehicle the big vehicle wins every time," Babcock said." Well when you’re 230 (pounds) and you’re bumping into 190 (pounds) the bigger guy wins.
"When you run into him people fall over."
Rosen, who doesn’t need to clear waivers for demotion, will join the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies after being the odd man out at Tuesday’s skate, leaving the Leafs with 14 forwards, seven defencemen and two goalies to open the season Wednesday night at the Winnipeg Jets.
Borgman and Rosen, both signed this summer as free agents out of the Swedish Hockey League, are six foot, but listed at 205 pounds and 174 pounds respectively on the team’s training camp list.
The 22-year-old Borgman also impressed Babcock with the way he can transition the play out of his own end. In 45 games last season with the SHL’s HV71, he produced five goals and 15 points and won the league’s rookie of the year honours.
"His edges are elite as well, so he can make that good breakout pass," said Babcock. "Now does he have a lot to learn? Absolutely, but we like a lot of things about him."
The biggest question up front for the Leafs before opening night was who would be their fourth-line centre in Winnipeg.
Dominic Moore was signed in the off-season for the role, but Eric Fehr has been taking line rushes with Matt Martin and Connor Brown, leaving the door open for Moore to potentially start the season as an extra forward alongside Josh Leivo.
"(Fehr’s) just a real good pro, good person who likes to do things right," said Babcock. "He competes hard every day, whether with young guys, old guys, he did it right."
With no intention to name a new captain this season, Babcock says he’s keeping the same alternates from last year in Morgan Rielly, Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov. Matt Hunwick also wore an ‘A’ last season, but he’s been replaced on the blue line by off-season signing Ron Hainsey.
Babcock says Hainsey, playing on the top pairing with Rielly, gives his team a reliable top-four defence along with Nikita Zaitsev and Jake Gardiner.
"Bringing Hainsey in is real good for us, calm veteran guy with his game at a high level," said Babcock.
"Between (those four), they’re going to play the toughest matchups, it should be fun to see what happens."
One of Toronto’s potential strengths this season is its depth on forward after the signing of veteran Patrick Marleau.
Marleau has been skating with Nazem Kadri and Komarov through camp as a checking line while Zach Hyman has been kept alongside Auston Matthews and William Nylander as the team’s top line. James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Mitch Marner are also back together after last season’s success.
"There’s always battles within the team setting to grab a bigger slice. I don’t think it’s exclusive to us but the depth we have is pretty impressive," said van Riemsdyk.
Frederik Andersen will be backed up in net by Curtis McElhinney. Martin Marincin is expected to be the club’s extra defenceman.