For the first time since the NHL season was paused on March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas held a media session on Tuesday.
Here are five takeaways from the conference call with reporters.
1. ROBERTSON'S CHANCE
After scoring 55 goals in 46 games with the Peterborough Petes, winger Nick Robertson will get every opportunity to crack the Leafs roster.
"Nick's had a great season right from the draft on. He had an excellent World Junior summer selection camp in Plymouth, and that set him up for the season. He was really strong for us at the rookie tournament in Traverse City and carried that through training camp. I think, looking back and reflecting on it, we probably should've given him more of a look in training camp and probably rewarded him with an exhibition game or two to see how he did there. But he went back to Peterborough and had a great attitude and he was an excellent player for them right away.
"I know the goal scoring was prolific, but the part of his game that we really came to admire during the season was his play on the defensive side and especially on the penalty kill, his ability to win the puck back and then tear down the ice and produce chances and scoring for the Petes. And he played a huge role on the World Junior team as well. Disappointing, of course, that he won't be able to see how far he could've run it up in regards to chasing 60 goals. He's one of the more focused and hardworking prospects I've seen in my time in hockey and I think he knows the areas he needs to continue to work on. He's got a great read on that, and, come training camp, we'll give him every opportunity to potentially make the team and put the ball into his court and see what he can do in the fall."
2. PUSHING FOR BARABANOV
It's no secret, the Leafs are pushing hard to sign free agent Alexander Barabanov, who posted 20 points in 43 games with St. Petersburg SKA this season. TSN insider Darren Dreger has reported that the Leafs and Coyotes are the frontrunners to sign the 25-year-old KHL winger. Dubas explained exactly why the Leafs like Barabanov.
"He's strong. He's not tall (5-foot-10), but he's a very strong winger. Tremendous playmaking ability, great skill level in tight. But one of the other things we like most about him is his ability to make plays under pressure and his ability to win pucks, protect pucks when people come after him and use his strength to be able to do that. So, he's a playmaking winger who also has the ability to finish at the net and we'll continue to pursue him as best we can."
3. FOCUS ON SCOUTING, DEVELOPMENT
The focus right now is, of course, on corresponding with stakeholders about the pandemic and the fallout, but that doesn't mean hockey-related work isn't happening. Dubas identified two specific areas the organization can zero in on.
"It's really been a focus on scouting and player development and getting both of those departments to advance as far as we can during this period, which is obviously unprecedented. So, we're trying to use the time we do have to make sure we're doing all that we can to set those departments up as best as possible for when we do resume."
4. WICK'S ROLE
There are so many unknowns and so many questions regarding the virus and the Leafs are doing their best to provide as much support and information to their players. Dubas said they are leaning on the team's medical staff, led by Dr. Noah Forman, and also Hayley Wickenheiser, the team's assistant director of player development.
"She's in medical school and has a lot of great insights into it and the players who have been on the ice with her and know Hayley have a great relationship [with her] so she's a great resource as well. I'm not qualified to give any insights on these things, but Hayley and Dr. Forman do have those qualifications as well as some of the infectious disease experts that the league and MLSE have provided for us. So, it's just trying to keep everyone as educated as possible and support them.”
5. SILVER LINING
Dubas noted that the season pause has allowed him to spend more continuous time with his wife and young son, which is a rarity considering how busy the hockey world can be.
"I don't know if it would be possible for me, and probably for a lot of you and others, to have this much time in a row with our families. So, our little guy is two and a half years old and at a great age for developing his personality and it has been a lot of fun on that front. So, trying to take advantage of all the time I have with he and Shannon has been one of the silver linings, a big-time silver lining, to this entire situation."
Dubas has also always enjoyed catching up on some television shows as a way to unwind.
"We're watching Ozark, the new season of Ozark. It's been outstanding, and then the final season of Homeland, and it's been unbelievable, in my opinion, (but) I'm not a television expert by any means. And then Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Office always make their way in. And I'm actually reading a fiction book. I don't read much fiction, but I figured to get the mind working a little bit I'd do that. It's a book called, Ohio by Stephen Markley.”
The Leafs have announced that a series of conference calls with players and staff will take place in the days ahead. Alternate captain Morgan Rielly is set to speak to reporters on Thursday, with head coach Sheldon Keefe on the schedule for next week.