Marner, Sandin injuries create opportunity for Steeves, Rubins with Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe updated the statuses of Mitch Marner and Travis Dermott, both of whom are dealing with shoulder injuries.

TORONTO – The injury bug has bit the Toronto Maple Leafs something fierce.

Jumping off to fantastic seasons, Mitch Marner and Rasmus Sandin were both added to the injured reserve list Tuesday morning and will be out weeks, putting the club’s depth to the test.

Marner suffered a shoulder Friday when he collided with teammate Jake Muzzin in practice. Although he traveled with the club on its weekend back-to-back in Minnesota and Winnipeg, he did not play nor skate with the team.

Upon returning to Toronto, an MRI showed the injury was more serious than originally suspected. The star winger will be out three to four weeks. The club will take extra caution and not rush a return.

The length of Marner’s rehabilitation should allow the Leafs to retroactively place his large salary on LTIR when they need cap space to bring back a goalie Petr Mrazek (groin) and winger Ilya Mikheyev (thumb) back onto the roster later this month.

Where will the Leafs miss Marner the most?

“Everywhere,” Alexander Kerfoot said. “He’s on the ice the whole game.”

Sandin was the victim of a direct knee-on-knee hit from Winnipeg defenceman Neal Pionk in Sunday’s loss and needed help off the ice. He left the rink in crutches and has been unable to put weight on his leg. An MRI revealed “very positive” results, Keefe said.

No structural damage was done to Sandin’s knee, but he’ll need time for the swelling and bruising to calm. Sandin’s return should fall in the two-to-three-week range. “It all depends on how it settles down,” Keefe cautioned.

Pionk went unpenalized on the play but was suspended two games for his actions.

“I thought the play at the time was worthy of a penalty, and clearly the league agreed,” Keefe said.

Toronto’s Jason Spezza delivered a retaliatory knee to a falling Pionk’s head later in the game and faces an in-person hearing Tuesday.

Pionk has been placed in concussion protocol and not travelling with the Jets.

"Not just the people in this room but everybody that's involved in the game knows Jason Spezza and his character very well,” Keefe said. “So, I would expect all that is taken into account."

Leafs defenceman Travis Dermott is also dealing with a shoulder injury that will keep him off the ice Tuesday versus Columbus, though his ailment has been deemed not as serious as Marner’s.

“Anytime these injuries and things happen, an opportunity opens up for others to come in,” Keefe said. “Guys need to step up.”

In advance of Tuesday’s home game versus the Blue Jackets, the Maple Leafs recalled defenceman Kristiāns Rubīns, 23, and forward Alex Steeves, 21, from the Toronto Marlies. Both undrafted prospects will make their NHL debut Tuesday. (The Leafs also recalled veteran defenceman Alex Biega and loaned forward Joey Anderson back to the AHL.)

Keefe knows Rubins’ game well from his time as Marlies coach and is thrilled to see the 6-foot-5, 221-pound big man’s progression from the ECHL Growlers to the Marlies and now, finally, the Show.

Steeves was a stud for Notre Dame. He chose the Maple Leafs as an unrestricted free agent out of college and has been determined to jump into the NHL as soon as possible.

After suffering a shoulder injury in September, Steeves is off to a fantastic start in the pros. Steeves has scored seven goals and 12 points in 12 games for the Marlies.

“He’s got a good shot. He’s very strong. He’s powerful,” senior director of player development Hayley Wickenheiser said at camp.

“Can he make plays under pressure at the next level?”

We're about to find out.

One-Timers: Injured Columbus winger Patrik Laine is reportedly back in Finland celebrating the life of his father, Harri, who passed away unexpectedly last month…. Steeves will wear No. 46 and Rubins No. 56 for the Maple Leafs…. Mrazek returned to Leafs practice after starting for the Marlies Sunday on a conditioning stint.... Jack Campbell starts in net for the Leafs. Elvis Merzlikins gets the tap for Columbus.

Projected Leafs lines:

Bunting - Matthews - Simmonds
Kerfoot - Tavares - Nylander
Ritchie - Kämpf - Kase
Steeves - Engvall - Clifford
 

Rielly – Brodie
Muzzin – Holl
Rubins – Liljegren

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