NEWARK, N.J. — The Toronto Maple Leafs have brought in some help for their ailing blueline, acquiring defenceman Conor Timmins from the Arizona Coyotes to fill out the defence corps.
The 24-year-old Thorold, Ont., native joins the blue and white after a pair of seasons in the Coyotes organization — splitting time between the big club and AHL Tucson so far this year — and a pair in the Colorado Avalanche system before that.
Speaking about the trade late Wednesday, GM Kyle Dubas shed light on the thinking behind the deal.
“Obviously he was a highly touted prospect coming out of junior — he’s had some injury trouble at the end of his junior career to start, but we’ll hope to get to work with that,” Dubas said.
“He’s obviously bigger of a guy than we have really able to come up. We know he’s competitive, but I think just his brain, his intelligence, the way he’s able to make plays and be reliable both offensively and defensively.
“And I think for us, right now, he just turned 24, so a lot left there for us to work with.”
Drafted 32nd overall by the Avalanche back in 2017, Timmins originally made the jump to the pros as a promising prospect before injuries stalled his ascent, the right-shot defender having amassed 115 points through three seasons with the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
Eventually becoming a key part of the trade that sent netminder Darcy Kuemper from Arizona to Colorado, Timmins has posted seven career points and averaged just under 14 minutes of ice in 41 NHL appearances to this point. He’ll now reunite with former Greyhounds teammate Rasmus Sandin — and with Dubas, who was still with the Greyhounds’ front office when Timmins was drafted by the club — in Toronto for a shot at adding to those big-league numbers.
And the reunion couldn’t come at a better time for Timmins’ new club.
Already navigating an unsteady start to the 2022-23 season, the Maple Leafs find themselves without their top three defencemen, as Morgan Rielly, T.J. Brodie and Jake Muzzin have all been pushed to the shelf with injury. Rielly was moved to long-term injured reserve Tuesday as he recovers from a knee injury, while Brodie remains out with an oblique injury, and larger questions remain about whether Toronto will see Muzzin back in a Leafs sweater at all.
“It’s for sure worrisome,” captain John Tavares said Tuesday of Rielly’s absence. “We know the role he plays on and off the ice for our team. I think he’s one of the best defencemen in the league.”
“It’s definitely time for all the other guys to step up and fill those big shoes,” added Sandin. “It’s up to us.”
With the trio out of the mix for the time being — though Brodie is back on the ice working to return — the Maple Leafs look set to lean heavily on veteran Mark Giordano and young Sandin, with rookie Mac Hollowell set to make his NHL debut Wednesday as the club takes on the rolling New Jersey Devils.
They’ll soon get a bit of relief with the addition of Timmins, the six-foot-two, 185-pound defender capable of stepping into a depth role until the mainstays return to the fold.
“Predating the most recent injuries to Morgan and TJ — with Muzz and Dahlstrom out, it had become a priority for us as we were going along, to see if we could convert one of our forward prospects into a D,” Dubas said of how the slew of injuries led to this deal. “We’ve been trying to work on that for a little while now, so it’s not a reaction really to Morgan being out — it’s a collection of all the defence matters that have happened over the year.”
According to longtime Coyotes beat writer Craig Morgan, Arizona had intended to waive Timmins to get him some legitimate playing time and a greater role down at the AHL level, but were sure he wouldn’t make it through unclaimed. The club opted for a trade instead, receiving 22-year-old forward Curtis Douglas in return, a six-foot-nine centreman who’s yet to play at the NHL level.
Although injuries have limited Timmins’ ability to reach his full potential up to this point, Dubas says the young defenceman is currently ready to roll.
“Obviously, that’s the risk that you have to bear on that front,” Dubas said of Timmins’ injury history. “He’s been cleared, he’s played two NHL games, then went down and played six games in Tucson. So he’s 100 per cent healthy at this point.”
Even so, the club isn’t expecting their new addition to slot into the lineup right away once he joins up with the team.
“He hasn’t played in an NHL game since mid-October, so there’s no real rush,” the Maple Leafs GM said. “We have the flexibility with the cap — obviously with the guys we have out, we can carry 23 people on the roster. So there’s not a big rush. For us, with him, we think he can help now, but it’s also a future play, big-time.
“There’s no real rush for him to get in and have to make a big impact right away.”