How sidelined Leafs Hyman, Dermott supported each other through recovery

NHL insider Chris Johnston joins Shawn McKenzie to dissect and weigh in on Auston Matthews and other Leafs leaders’ comments about needing to hold each other a little bit more accountable.

TORONTO — You could have made a pretty good buddy cop parody with Travis Dermott and Zach Hyman these last six months.

The surgically repaired Toronto Maple Leafs have basically been each other’s shadow since the playoffs ended in Boston: Visiting the team’s practice facility for rehab from Monday to Thursday initially, then adding Fridays in as well during the summer months.

At training camp in St. John’s, they arrived at the arena together when their teammates were wrapping up morning scrimmages each day to get their work in with the medical staff. At home games throughout the first month of the regular season, they’ve often sat side by side in the press box at Scotiabank Arena.

"We’ve spent a lot of time together," Hyman said Thursday. "We’re close buds."

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Now – or very soon, at least – they’ll get the payoff: Both players believe they’re closing in on a return to the Leafs lineup.

It has been their shared experience that’s made the recovery process bearable since Hyman had a torn ACL in his right knee repaired on April 29 and Dermott underwent left shoulder surgery on May 10.

"Having a guy like Travis to go through all that with makes it a lot less lonely because sometimes when you get injured it’s a lonely time," said Hyman.

"We each have our own table in there," he added, motioning towards the back room. "I think they’re going to engrave our names on that table. It’s been so many hours sitting on there getting treatment."

In Hyman, Dermott found not only a friend who could sympathize with what he’s going through, but also a motivator.

"If there’s a day where I’m 70 per cent coming in, if I had a bad sleep and I’m not feeling it, you see the look on Hyms’s face [and it helps]," said Dermott. "You come here and you think you’re early – 20 minutes, 30 minutes early – and he’s already in here. You’re like ‘OK, all right, I’ve really got to get going."’

Dermott is an upbeat character in his own right, the kind of guy who doesn’t have too many bad days. But he concedes that it’s been difficult being held at arm’s length while the team started the season without him.

It’s a feeling Hyman’s experienced as well, saying: "This is an injury where you have days you feel really good and days you don’t feel as well. So, yeah, I think it’s frustrating. I want to get back yesterday, right?"

"You can get pretty down on yourself pretty quick," said Dermott. "It’s easy to kind of get caught up in your mind and you start overthinking s—."

Their impending returns should be a boost for a Leafs team that sits at 5-4-2 and is missing captain John Tavares (broken finger) as well. Hyman was the dogged puck retriever on a line with Tavares and Mitch Marner last season – Toronto’s most effective trio at 5-on-5 – while the 22-year-old Dermott appears ready to come into his own with 100 NHL games under his belt and a spot alongside former Marlies teammate Justin Holl awaiting him on the third pairing.

Dermott and Hyman are eligible to be activated from long-term injured reserve in time for Saturday’s game in Montreal, but it’s not clear if that will happen because the team would have to clear four players off the roster to accommodate their cap hits.

Dermott says he’s physically ready to return as soon as the team needs him and isn’t sure if that will come against the Canadiens. Hyman hinted that he might still require a bit more recovery time.

"You have to respect the timeline and respect the process," he said. "I’ve done a lot of work to get to where I am now. Making sure that when I do come back everything’s good and there’s no setbacks going on."

Pretty soon, though, he and Dermott will be back where they’re happiest. Playing games for the Leafs.

The road to recovery was just a tiny bit smoother because they travelled it together.

"I think it’s really important that you bring a positive energy, especially when things are frustrating and when you’re going through an injury where there’s a timeline but you really don’t know what the timeline is until you’re ready and the doctors clear you and whatnot," said Hyman.

"Being positive and staying light is really important and [Dermott is] a good guy to have around to do that."

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