With injuries and suspensions piling up, Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle has a need for a few good men.
Preferably ones that can play one position in particular.
“We’ve got a shortage of right wingers right now,” Carlyle said Tuesday, referencing suspensions to Phil Kessel (three preseason games) and David Clarkson (10 regular-season games) after last Sunday’s preseason brawl with the Buffalo Sabres. “It’s been a little bit more of a challenge.”
Combined with injuries to three players expected to fill roles among Toronto’s bottom-six forwards – Dave Bolland, Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren – the Leafs are likely going to have a few unexpected faces on their opening-night roster in Montreal next week.
Who takes Clarkson’s spot appears to be obvious. The Leafs signed training camp tryout Mason Raymond to a one-year, $1-million (U.S.) deal last Monday and could attempt to shift the left winger over to fill a hole on Nazem Kadri’s wing.
The other candidate would be Nikolai Kulemin, who skated last season with Kadri and Joffrey Lupul at times.
“When we brought him in on a tryout, the expectation was he was going to be able to make an impression,” Carlyle said of Raymond’s play in the preseason, where he’s led the team with four points in three games. “And he didn’t fall short. … To get a player like that, I think we’re very fortunate.”
The candidates to fill-in the rest of the forward group, meanwhile, are a curious mix of inexperienced prospects (Joe Colborne, Carter Ashton, Josh Leivo), minor-league veterans (Trevor Smith) and gritty enforcer types (Troy Bodie, Jamie Devane and David Broll).
All come with low salary cap hits, which is important as Toronto won’t get any real relief for suspended or injured players and may have to start the season paying more than the 23-man roster limit.
Carlyle intimated Tuesday it may be the youngest forwards that will be given the greatest chance to succeed – which will include ample ice time in the Leafs final two preseason games Friday and Saturday.
“Teams have to have youth in their lineup,” Carlyle said. “You have to bring your young players along. Now, if we’re afforded the opportunity and if players develop to a [level] where you think they can make a contribution, then it makes it easier.
“We’re all trying to develop and have young players supplement your veterans in your lineup.”