The Toronto Maple Leafs training camp is but three days old and already Randy Carlyle has offered up some interesting new ideas for his roster.
Chief among those on Friday was the notion of potentially finding more ice time for Frazer McLaren – one of the Leafs two dedicated fighters – in a special teams role.
“In the discussions you have with those players, you always have the same message,” Carlyle explained. “You’ve got to find a way to make yourself more of a commodity for the coaching staff. You’re not a one dimensional player.
“Frazer McLaren did kill penalties in the American Hockey League for the Worcester IceCats. And we knew that and we have evidence of that over the course of his young career.”
Rolling the 6-foot-5, 230-pound enforcer out on what was the league’s second best penalty kill last season would certainly be an odd manoeuvre for the Leafs coaching staff.
Carlyle’s go-to forwards when down a man were the relatively talented Jay McClement, Nikolai Kulemin, Leo Komarov, Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk, with only Komarov and his roughly two minutes a game not returning to the roster this year.
In his 75-game NHL career, meanwhile, McLaren has only spent eight seconds on the penalty kill.
A few fighters around the league, however, fill the role once in a while.
Steve Ott and Brandon Prust were both in the two minute a night range last season, as was Derek Dorsett, Matt Hendricks and B.J. Crombeen, but all are more in the agitating middleweight category.
McLaren would be a penalty killing unicorn, of sorts.
“That’s where the growth is possible for him to take the next step,” Carlyle said. “To use him in the exhibition season killing penalties. He’s had that role before at the lower level.
“Is it time to experience that now? Give him a little bit of opportunity? We’re not afraid to do that with those guys.”
Carlyle’s love of the punchers was a storyline throughout last season, as after the Leafs claimed McLaren off waivers in late January on the coach’s recommendation, he and Colton Orr picked up plenty of ice time as part of a fight-happy fourth line.
Orr appeared in 44 of 48 games and had about 10 shifts a game; McLaren played 35 and had nine shifts a game. They combined for 25 of Toronto’s league-leading 44 fighting majors, part of a new identity for the franchise under Carlyle that’s similar to that of his old Anaheim Ducks teams.
Having the pair playing much of the year on the same line wasn’t pretty for the Leafs possession stats, however, as they were outshot nearly 2-to-1 in those 118 minutes of play.
And when it came time for the playoffs, even against a tough team like the Boston Bruins, the Leafs changed their strategy after getting blown out in Game 1 and went with more of a finesse group over the rest of the series.
There has been no indication, however, that Carlyle has any inclination to deviate from playing Orr and McLaren this season.
If anything, the fighters appear to be in line for a bigger role than ever.