After getting a taste of the NHL and averaging 13:32 minutes per game in the playoffs, Maple Leafs defenceman Travis Dermott is back with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies in their quest for the Calder Cup. The 21-year-old has three points in nine games and has been paired with another blueliner exciting Leafs fans for the future, Timothy Liljegren.
So what is Dermott’s scouting report on the 19-year-old Liljegren? He believes it won’t be long before Leafs fans see him in an NHL jersey. The key, like it is for most under-20 players, is to keep getting harder to knock off the puck.
“I think the only thing he needs to keep working on is to get bigger and stronger,” Dermott said on Sportsnet 590 The FAN’s Good Show Tuesday. “I think his head for the game could play in the NHL for sure. He really understands the game and he understands that despite not being the biggest guy he’s learning ways to defend more efficiently.”
Liljegren was Toronto’s first-round pick, 17th overall, in the 2017 draft. Originally ranked as high as second early in his draft year and pushing Nolan Patrick for first overall consideration, Liljegren was slowed by mono and his stock dropped as the year went on. This season, his first in North America, Liljegren posted 17 points in 44 games, which didn’t rank among the top 20 AHL rookies, but made him the highest-scoring under-20 defenceman in the league.
Dermott sees an NHL mind and NHL skills in Liljegren’s game, and says it’s been a blast seeing his current D partner improve.
“He’s such a skilled player; his skill is definitely NHL-ready,” Dermott continued. “His speed, he can skate like the wind. Good passer, good shooter, he can run a power play. And just keep getting stronger because those guys at the next level are fast, skilled, and strong.
“I can’t see him staying out of that league for much longer.”
It’s worth noting that while Liljegren hasn’t put up a ton of points in his rookie AHL season, it can be misleading in terms of how he’s taken to the professional game in North America.
At Kyle Dubas’s introductory press conference earlier this month, the new Leafs GM talked about Liljegren’s performance in the AHL.
“It’s a very difficult challenge when you’re 18 years old to play in the American Hockey League,” Dubas said. “We could have put him in major junior and he’d probably look great, have a ton of points. The major thing I’ve been impressed with Timothy about has been his off-ice preparation. His commitment to reaching his potential. Goes about it in a quiet way. Doesn’t draw a lot of attention to himself. Just comes in very focused, concentrated and works extremely hard. I’m very excited about his prospects.”
For now, Dermott and Liljegren are an impressive duo manning the blue line together for the Marlies, who are just four wins away from winning their first Calder Cup. The final series, in which Toronto faces the Texas Stars, begins Saturday, June 2 at 4:00 p.m. ET.