Maple Leafs winger Dmytro Timashov quietly inching closer to NHL job

Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock discusses the chances of both Rasmus Sandin and Dmytro Timashov making the Maple Leafs roster out of training camp.

TORONTO — The discussion about roster-spot battles at Toronto Maple Leafs training camp have rarely included much time for Dmytro Timashov.

Perhaps we should have asked the 22-year-old winger about his intentions here sooner.

“For me, I’m just thinking that I will make it. There is no [thought] that I’m not going to make it or what’s going to happen after that,” Timashov told Sportsnet. “For me, I’m making the team.”

There is still a week and four pre-season games to go, but he’s clearly on the right track.

It was not by accident that Timashov found himself skating with the NHLers following a reshuffling of the groups on Monday morning. “It’s a step in the right direction,” he said after getting paired with Jason Spezza and Frederik Gauthier for what could be a preview of the Leafs fourth line come opening night.

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Consider that a more appealing assignment at this stage of camp than the one given to Kenny Agostino, Nick Shore, Nic Petan and Jeremy Bracco. Each of those bubble boys was part of the AHL-flavoured group sent to Montreal to face the Canadiens.

“What we tried to do tonight is put a bunch of people under a serious amount of duress,” said Mike Babcock. “In other words, you’re going to be playing against NHL players and there is no guys on your team there to help you. You’re by yourself.”

The coach has long been a fan of Timashov — a fifth-round pick by the Leafs in 2015. He and Trevor Moore were essentially the final forwards cut last fall, with Moore earning the next-man-up designation and ultimately skating in 32 games for the Leafs.

There appears to be a similar carrot hanging over Timashov’s head now, even after a summer where the organization added five or six experienced forwards to fill either a depth role with the Leafs or a bigger job with the AHL Marlies.

“I say to Timo all the time: ‘Why not you?’” said Babcock. “He protects the puck, he’s smart defensively, to me he’s not a tall body but he’s a thick body. He can play with real good pace. His biggest area of concern is when he gets it, sometimes he turns it over too much.

“What the young guys got to realize is the big guys don’t turn it over because they don’t want to play defence. So they take care of it so they get to play on offence. That’s what he’s got to learn.

“If he can do that he can play.”

Timashov already has three AHL seasons under his belt and spent a lot of extra time in coach Sheldon Keefe’s office last year, reviewing tape and trying to work on his play away from the puck.

Those hours were logged with the NHL in mind.

The job description he’s auditioning for with the Leafs is fairly lunch-bucket in nature: Help drive play in limited minutes at even strength, and be ready to contribute on the penalty kill, if needed.

“They want me to be strong on the pucks, good forechecks, be fast. I think like I started to be at the end of last year’s playoffs in the Marlies,” said Timashov. “Be heavy in the O-zone, try to hold on to the pucks, be physical, play physical and still be a skill guy, too, to make plays and do stuff like that.”

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The one thing he shares in common with most of the guys battling for the 12th and 13th forward spots is that he’d need to pass through waivers in order to be assigned to the Marlies.

Only Bracco is exempt among that group.

It means the decision is likely to be based on merit rather than contractual considerations, which makes this last week of auditions important. Timashov is happy with the two pre-season games he’s played so far, but knows he needs “to be really good” to separate himself when he gets the chance to play again.

“Competition’s always good,” said Moore. “Good for the organization, good for me. It pushes us and it makes us all better hockey players.

“If you don’t like competing then you’re in the wrong line of business, right?”

Whether you find it surprising or not, Timashov is clearly in the thick of the battle.

After spending a month back home in Stockholm and some time training at altitude in Aspen, Colo., he’s returned to Toronto with one objective in mind.

“I felt like I was ready even last year because I was pretty close,” said Timashov. “I think this year I have no choice. It’s about time to take the job.”

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