Trevor Moore knocking on the door for spot on Maple Leafs

NHL insider Chris Johnston explains why a long-term deal makes the most sense for both the club and player in these Maple Leafs-William Nylander contract negotiations.

This is a pre-season lineup that jumps off the page because it’s the first time the Toronto Maple Leafs have gone full Galacticos since signing John Tavares.

In Wednesday night’s game at Montreal they’ll be rolling out a PP1 that features Tavares at net-front, Nazem Kadri as the bumper, Auston Matthews on the left half-wall, Morgan Rielly at the point and Mitch Marner pulling the strings on the right.

But what also stands out in this first true dry run of the 2018-19 Leafs season is the man called on to play alongside Tavares and Marner at even strength – the speedy Trevor Moore, who didn’t receive much fanfare while spending the last two years with the AHL Marlies until playing a huge role in their Calder Cup victory last spring.

Now, a week out from the season opener, the 23-year-old is clearly knocking on the door for a job with the Leafs.

“I think Moorsey has a chance to play in the National Hockey League,” said coach Mike Babcock. “I think he has a tendency to get in his own way and not have as much confidence as he should have. That’s what I’ve tried to talk to him about as much as possible.”

In terms of confidence, you can’t get a much bigger boost than being sent over the boards with Nos. 91 and 16 in a Leafs game that will feel more like the real thing than any of the five that came before it.

For Moore, it’s a sign that he’s getting closer. His progression through the organization hasn’t gone at the pace he originally expected when he left the University of Denver to sign a free-agent deal with Toronto in July 2016. He put up elite offensive numbers in the NCAA while sharing a line with a current NHLer (Boston’s Danton Heinen) and playing under a future NHL coach (Dallas’ Jim Montgomery).

“I think it’s normal, though. It’s a lot of development,” said Moore. “You’ve got to be pretty special to sign and go right to the NHL, right? You feel impatient when you’re not moving up at the rate you’d like to, but [GM Kyle Dubas] talked to me a bunch – it’s just a long game, it’s not a tomorrow thing.

“It’s a down the road thing.”

A prime-time spot appeared for him at this stage of camp with wingers Zach Hyman (hip pointer) and William Nylander (no contract) still unavailable. It’s a sign of where Moore stands in the eyes of the organization, currently ahead of Dmytro Timashov and Carl Grundstrom in the pecking order among their options at left wing.

Even though he’s unlikely to start the season in the Leafs lineup – it would take another injury, plus Nylander’s contract stalemate to drag into next week – there’s clearly an opportunity for him to earn a callup to the big club in the months ahead.

It helps that he already has NHL-level speed and a knack for making strong defensive plays on the backcheck. Moore also kills penalties, which is another useful tool given that he’s likely to fill a bottom-six role at the next level.

During the Calder Cup playoffs, when Moore put up 17 points in 20 games, Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe observed that he’d transformed from a player trying to survive at the AHL level to someone pushing for a NHL job. His trajectory has continued upwards since reporting to Leafs camp earlier this month.

“I didn’t think I’d be playing with JT and Marner, but things happen,” said Moore.

What an opportunity.

Getting the call at the Bell Centre carried some added significance for the native of Thousand Oaks, Calif., because his dad’s stepdad was a native Montrealer.

“That’s how we got hockey in our family, actually,” said Moore.

“It’s been a long journey. It’s definitely not done yet.”

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