Tyler Bozak and Dave Bolland have accounted for 65 per cent of all Toronto Maple Leafs' faceoffs thus far this season. With the pair of centres on the shelf for the immediate future, the team is searching for options to carry the load.
Bozak has been out since incurring a hamstring injury in a loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on October 25. He was placed on long-term injured reserve and isn't eligible to return until November 21st when the Leafs take on the New York Islanders.
Bolland underwent surgery for a torn tendon in his left ankle after Zack Kassian's skate blade cut it during a collison in Saturday night's loss to the Vancouver Canucks. There is no timetable set for his return.
In their absences, regular centres Nazem Kadri, Jay McClement and Trevor Smith will see an increased workload, while James van Riemsdyk, almost exclusively employed as a winger in his time with the Leafs, will shift to centre a line in between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. The 24-year-old van Riemsdyk played centre for two years at the collegiate level with the University of New Hampshire, but has NHL experience is limited. Compounding the issue of using van Riemsdyk in the circle is that he is left-handed. Because of this, it's not inconceivable that Lupul could step in on the draws depending on the situation.
Barring an acqusition from outside the organization to shore up the position, the team could turn to their AHL-affiliate Toronto Marlies for help. Jerred Smithson, a veteran of 588 NHL games with a career face-off percentage of just under 55 per cent, signed with the team on Wednesday and could be brought up to the big club.
In more positive injury-related news for the team, Mark Fraser is ready to return. The defenceman has been sidelined with a knee injury sustained in only the second game of the season after a hit from the Philadelphia Flyers' Jay Rosehill.
"If it was up to me, I'd like to play this weekend, hopefully on Friday," said Fraser on Wednesday. "Today was my best day yet as far as conditioning went and comfort with no pain. It was a true test as as good as I've felt so far."
Leafs coach Randy Carlyle was noncommittal as to when the club would dress Fraser.
"We have decisions to make and he's not any different than any other time than when we have extra bodies," said Carlyle after Wednesday's practice. "You're going to make the decision that you feel is best for your hockey club, give you the best chance to win."
The Leafs are next in action on Friday night when they host the New Jersey Devils in the Hall of Fame game.