8 Maple Leafs Notes: Why Ho-Sang is joining the Marlies

Brett Seney comes out of the penalty box and races up the side boards to score a beautiful goal against the Montreal Canadiens.

TORONTO – Tryouts can work, kids.

While the passionate and persistent Josh Ho-Sang notched another pre-season assist Monday in Ottawa, his tryout has concluded with a one-year AHL deal, not an NHL one.

“I think Josh is not playing at the level now that he was last week, so that’s been a little bit tougher for him,” Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “But the work that he’s put in, the attitude he’s had, the approach he’s taken all the way through this, I’ve been very impressed with him.”

Ho-Sang had said he’d be more than willing to start his season in the minors, and on Tuesday night he signed an AHL contract instead of a two-way one.

“I'd be willing to start in the East Coast,” Ho-Sang said at the outset of camp. “I'm not entitled by any means. I don’t think that I deserve anything here. For me, I am happy to be a part of this organization in any way they need me. If they need me sharpening skates, if they need me taping sticks, you know, this place is so special, and I don't truly believe that everyone gets to experience that.”

This way, Toronto avoids clearing the local talent through waivers before grooming him for a potential call-up and an NHL contract.

“I’ve played against Josh my whole life,” Mitch Marner said. “What I’ve seen him do is nothing really too surprising to me. He has a great mindset of creativity and finding plays throughout the ice, power play or not.

"His work ethic is something that has impressed everyone. I think everyone realizes the potential he has.”

In the event of a slump or injury, we could see Ho-Sang giving the Maple Leafs a mid-season energy boost.

“Every day is an opportunity here,” Keefe encouraged. “All through the season we’ll remain flexible, and we’ll monitor players that end up with the Marlies. “It’s an ongoing thing. Just take advantage of every rep you get.”

If Ho-Sang does get his second NHL life, it’ll be the hard way.

And that’s not a bad thing.

Robertson among early cuts

Watching who Nick Robertson played with in training camp, and how his coach spoke about him, it was inevitable that he’d be starting the season in the minors.

He just turned 20 last month, and it’s better to bring ’em up overripe.

Not a chance Robertson is pleased with getting cut Tuesday, but with time in the AHL, he can work on better using his linemates, improving his stride, and sharpening his penalty-killing skills.

There’s no room in Toronto’s crowded top six for him — yet. He’s not a shutdown third-liner. So, Robertson might have to find other ways to steal a job.

“There’s downs in everyone’s career,” Robertson, ever determined, said Tuesday. “What keeps going is trying to get better. “I’m going to be a full-time NHL player one day; it’s just a matter of when.”

Hutchinson the Leafs first waiver risk

With two goalie prospects, Ian Scott and Joseph Woll, getting banged up during this training camp, Toronto has been reminded of its tenuous depth in net.

The Maple Leafs surely hope Michael Hutchinson (4-2-1, .919 last season) slips through waivers Wednesday and remains a decent third-string option. Remember, third goalie Aaron Dell got scooped early in 2020-21 before even playing a game for the Leafs.

The organization wants to ice a much more competitive farm club, as the Marlies have trended downward since their 2018 Calder Cup run.

Some other Leafs who must clear waivers if they are to join the Marlies: Pierre Engvall, Adam Brooks, Joey Anderson, Alex Biega, and Michael Amadio.

Ilya Mikheyev, Cobra Commander

Soupy, Souperman, Mickey… Cobra?

Ilya Mikheyev has had nearly as many nicknames as a Leaf as he’s had breakaways.

The affable Russian demonstrated Tuesday that the “Cobra” handle stems from how he held his injured wrist like an alert snake head:

Mikheyev doesn’t mind the nickname — which was given to him by Jake Muzzin — but he’s got a touch of Indiana Jones in him: "I'm scared of snakes. I don't like it. I'm sorry. It’s OK. Just nickname."

Muzzin drops the Quote of the Week

Jake Muzzin grinned wide when explaining the exclusivity of his backyard pitch ’n’ putt, featured in Amazon Prime’s All or Nothing series: "There's a fee. It's a case of beer to get on that course."

Matthews ‘itching’ to get back into full practices

“Skating solo isn't the same, especially when you're watching the boys have fun out there,” Auston Matthews said Monday, after participating in his first practice since August’s wrist surgery.

The stud centreman was on the ice early working with Marner on some power-play give-and-goes from the bumper, and he stayed late playing a game of rebound.

Though he wore a red non-contact sweater, Matthews said it was simply precautionary: “The guys know not to try and run me through the boards right now.”

The Rocket champ says he is still “planning and hoping” to play in the Oct. 13 season opener and does see some value in squeezing into Saturday’s pre-season finale — if possible.

He still needs to feel more comfortable digging for pucks and battling in face-offs, but it’s only a matter of time.

"I'm still gaining some strength back in my arm and my wrist and stuff like that, so it's not quite where I want it to be, but I like [how] it's progressing and where it's going,” Matthews said. "The slight pain I'll feel once in a while is from sitting around for six weeks and not being able to do much and obviously jumping back into it. It's not bad pain.

"It's just kind of how it is when you come back from surgery."

Leafs are ‘on guard’ with Kase’s health

When you take a flier on a free agent like Ondrej Kase, who was limited to just three games last season due to concussions, you proceed with caution.

“In terms of scheduling and monitoring his workload and stuff like that, I think you're just naturally on guard a little bit more. You want to make sure you're putting him in a position to succeed,” Keefe says.

“I was really excited about [his play], and he's delivered on that. The health is something we've got to be really smart with.”

Toronto’s medical team speaks with Kase daily, and the coaches are consciously building up the foundation of the versatile winger’s game to the point where they can feel confident that he can simply go play.

Keefe hasn’t limited Kase at all and is thus far impressed with his comfort level joining a new team after a shaky 2020-21.

“I was actually excited that the Leafs signed me, because you need to trust yourself if you're going to play in the best league,” Kase says. “So, I try to trust myself the best I can, and hopefully it will be great. Sometimes it was tough [not playing], but my family and my girlfriend supported me a lot, so it was a little bit easier.”

Marner will not read this

How does Mitch Marner cope with the spotlight of being a superstar in a hockey-crazed town?

"Stay away from reading whatever you guys write,” he replied to reporters Tuesday.

That goes for the positive and the negative press. He’s trying to live in a media-free bubble to avoid the highs and lows. Including social media.

"Just get rid of it completely," Marner said. "That's the way you got to do it. You know, just take yourself away from it and try and be in the here and now. I mean, there's always good things said, but there's always bad things. So, for me, it was just better deleting some [apps] and get off of it completely. I just let my team handle all that stuff. And, that's kind of how I handled it this past summer."

Marner admits there “probably” is more pressure on him as a hometown kid repping the Maple Leaf.

"Just because you live here all year round,” he said. “But there's pressure on anyone on this team or management, it doesn't matter where you're from.”

One-Timers

• Kurtis Gabriel as a Leaf: two home games, two fights.

• Muzzin and Travis Dermott are both day-to-day after being last-minute unhealthy scratches in Ottawa Monday. “Both we’re expecting to bounce back,” Keefe assures.

• Nikita Gusev is released from his PTO. His shot will make the hair on your neck stand up, but there's not much else there. Is this the end of his NHL career?

• Contrary to a report, the coach says the Leafs did not beg out of Monday’s pre-season shootout in Ottawa because some players were sick. Keefe explained both he and Ottawa coach D.J. Smith didn't really care if there was one, so the officials decided to nix it.

• Wednesday, the Maple Leafs are off to play golf in cottage country, where they’ll also practice Thursday and Friday. A much-needed change of scenery during a grinding three-week training camp.

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