Maple Leafs look to shake up bottom six by recalling Pontus Holmberg

Kyper and Bourne breaks down the Maple Leafs loss to the Panthers, and their thought that the new Leafs are sort of looking like the old Leafs, lacking a bit of overall “toughness”, after the off-season attempts to get a bit more grit and sandpaper.

TAMPA — Enter Pontus Holmberg.

Due to a combination of factors, the Toronto Maple Leafs (2-2-0) have reached down to the farm for support and will make their first lineup switch of the season Saturday, when they face off in Tampa against the division rival Lightning.

For one, forward Tyler Bertuzzi is nursing an ailment, to the point he was a game-time decision leading up to Thursday’s 3-1 loss to the Florida Panthers, and the cap-tight Leafs had been traveling without a 13th forward on the roster.

For two, the club’s mix of bottom-six forwards has been in constant flux in the early going, and secondary scoring has been difficult to come by. Of the 14 goals scored by the Maple Leafs this season, only three have come off the stick of someone not named Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, or John Tavares.

For three, Holmberg is a pure centreman, coach Sheldon Keefe wants to find more minutes for David Kämpf, and prospect Fraser Minten‘s NHL trial seems to be slowing down here.

Keefe dropped the 19-year-old from the third line to the fourth midway through Thursday’s loss, he played a season-low 8:47, and the clock is ticking on his nine-game entry-level contract slide option.

“I mean, it’s been a lot,” Keefe said Friday of the camp standout. “First, he’s played a lot of hockey through Traverse City, through the training camp, through the number of preseason games we played him in, and then in the early going here.

“Everything, really, here for him is gravy. He’s here. He’s learning. He’s taking it all in. And I think he’s done a good job.”

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Yet not so good that the Leafs are willing to give Holmberg a shot after putting up two points in two AHL games this season and impressing Marlies coach John Gruden with his 200-foot effort.

This 4C job was there for Holmberg’s taking in September, but Keefe said the 24-year-old Swede had an “underwhelming” pre-season.

“I don’t think he asserted himself the way we’d like to see him in training camp. But also the emergence of guys like Minten and [Easton] Cowan, I thought those kinda guys for a large part of camp outplayed him, frankly. So, now you’re giving those young guys opportunities that he might’ve had,” explained Keefe.

The coach likes the upside Holmberg brings and was particularly bullish on the sixth-rounder’s impact in the first half of his 37-game NHL stint (five goals, 13 points, 18 PIM) last season but believes his impact weakened as the playoff stretch run neared.

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“He has a good skill set,” Keefe said. “It seemed like he maybe hit a wall the second half of the season. To me, wasn’t the same player that we had early in the season as the league gets harder and harder. Most young players are gonna go through that. I think he did. But he should be better for that experience.”

Matthews sees a teammate who can contribute as the search for scoring balance continues.

“He’s unbelievable, honestly. He’s like sneaky skilled and has such good touches with the puck and has a really good brain on the ice,” Matthews enthused. “Anytime he’s been up with us, he’s always played really solid at both ends at the ice, and he’s a guy that can definitely create offence in a number of different areas, whether it’s up the rush or below the dots, so I think he’s a very skilled and talented player.”

Holmberg will be tossed right into the fire Saturday at Amalie Arena.

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Remember, the last time the Maple Leafs entered that rink, they ended the Lightning’s Cup dream.

Tampa Bay, surely, has not forgotten that.

One-Timers: The Lightning will start goaltender Jonas Johansson, who brings a 2-1-1 record and a .894 save percentage into Saturday…. Bertuzzi assures he is good to play, despite dealing with an undisclosed nagging injury. He practised in full Friday and returned to his spot on the top line…. Tampa defenceman Calvin de Haan missed practiced and is questionable to suit up versus Toronto…. Toronto’s extra defenceman, Simon Benoit, was returned to the Marlies…. It’s clear Keefe has identified his fixer, and it’s Calle Järnkrok: “Seems everywhere that Järnkrok has been [inserted] has been one of our best lines.”

Maple Leafs projected lines in Tampa Bay Saturday:

Bertuzzi – Matthews – Marner
Knies – Tavares – Nylander
Domi – Kämpf – Järnkrok
Gregor – Holmberg – Reaves

Rielly – Brodie
McCabe – Liljegren
Giordano – Klingberg


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