Trevor Moore’s call-up cranks pressure on Leafs forwards

Shawn McKenzie reports on the Maple Leafs' stagnant offence, something that will need to come alive as they visit the Penguins in Pittsburgh.

PITTSBURGH – When Sheldon Keefe called Trevor Moore into his office following the Toronto Marlies’ 7-6 shootout loss to the Cleveland Monsters Friday night, the player was concerned.

“Kinda thought I was getting in trouble, honestly. He had the video pulled up. We were sitting there in awkward silence,” Moore recalled Saturday in Pittsburgh, following his first morning skate as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. “Then he told me.”

A smile spreads across the left-winger’s face.

At age 23, Moore — one of those never-drafted, undersized, try-hard, feel-good sports stories we all root for — has earned a call-up to the showtime.

“Obviously, some kind of dream come true, right? It’s really cool,” he says. “You have a hope, but you never know. We have a lot of good players in this organization, so I’m pretty honoured to get the call.”

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Despite losing two straight games in which his club failed to score at even strength, head coach Mike Babcock won’t insert Moore into the lineup Saturday night versus the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The only lineup change from Thursday’s home loss to Dallas will see Justin Holl replaced on the third defence pairing’s right side by Igor Ozhiganov.

But with the Marlies entering a seven-day break between games, Moore is thrilled with a chance to practise with the big club, cross his fingers, and reunite with his fellow 2018 Calder Cup champions Holl, Andreas Johnsson, Travis Dermott, and Garret Sparks at the higher level.

“We’re in a spot where we don’t have any extras. He’s played real good [in the AHL],” Babcock said, “so this gives us an opportunity to look at him, and if we need him, we’ll use him.”

Moore carried the momentum he built during that Marlies Cup run (17 points in 20 playoff games) through an impressive training camp and a quick start to his 2018-19 campaign.

The 5-foot-10, 175-pound energy forward is deceptively strong on puck. Long regarded for his tenacity, Moore is rapidly gaining a rep for his scoring touch as well.

He ranks fourth-overall in the AHL with eight goals and leads all Marlies with 12 points through 10 outings.

“Things have been going well,” says Moore, whose proud grandma lives in nearby Wilkes-Barre, Penn. “I’ve happened to find a couple pucks in the back of the net early, which is always good for the confidence. I played a lot of minutes down there and have been getting in some good PK time, so it’s been good.”

After watching the late-blooming prospect closely in training camp, Babcock said he believed Moore had a chance to make it as an NHLer.

The extended absence of two top-line forwards — William Nylander remains at a deadlock with management over his next contract, and Auston Matthews (shoulder) is still weeks away from being game-ready — has freed up ice time further down the lineup.

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Moore’s call-up adds yet another wrinkle to the internal competition among a bottom-six forward group that has struggled to provide much of a secondary scoring punch.

“The way I look at it is, by having people out, it’s an opportunity for other people. Whether it ends up helping the team right away, it should help the individual,” Babcock said.

“There’s 12 forwards. Everybody but Goat [Frederik Gauthier] is playing on a power play or a penalty kill. There’s tons of opportunity for everybody. Show us what you have.

“This is your chance to create value.”

Moore said he’s just going to take this dream day by day.

“If I get in at some point, that’s great,” he said. “If not, it is what it is.”

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