The Maple Leafs practised at the Paradise Double Ice Complex in Paradise, NL on Sunday.
Mitch Marner received a big ovation upon taking the ice for the first time at Maple Leafs training camp. More than 1,000 fans crammed into a rink in the town of Paradise ("Our name says it all," reads the sign welcoming visitors) to see the man who racked up 94 points last season before signing a big, new contract on Friday night.
"You feel the love in this city," Marner said. "The fan base here is a lot bigger than I think all of us thought."
Despite missing the informal team skates in the run up to camp, Marner worked hard on conditioning in the summer and said he felt fine in a pair of practice sessions on Sunday. He was reunited with centre John Tavares during the workouts.
"Just trying to get the chemistry down again," he said, "try to get it back, it's been a while since we skated together so at these practices we really have to talk to each other get the chemistry going again."
The dynamic duo have a new linemate as Kasperi Kapanen takes the place of Zach Hyman.
"He's got a lot of speed so, either one of us, when we don't have the puck I know we're going to try and find open space for each other," said Marner.
Hyman is working his way back from knee surgery and is expected to miss 14-15 games, according to head coach Mike Babcock.
"Obviously, I'll be the guy skating, getting the puck to them and standing in front of the net," said Kapanen, who potted 20 goals last season. "I'll let them do all the nice things and I'll do the dirty work."
Kapanen has played only sparingly on left wing in NHL, but did get some reps on that side with the Marlies.
"It's nothing too new to me, but it's something I have to adjust to and just get better at," the Finn said. "When we break out I'm getting the puck a lot on my backhand and it's getting it to my forehand, but it's just hockey and I'll try to figure it out."
"We'll have a talk," said Babcock, "and I'll explain clearly what he needs to do and then can he do it? I think he’d look real good on a line with (Alexander) Kerfoot and (Ilya) Mikheyev. I think they'd be a real good line for us, that's what we'd like, but while Hyman's (out) … there's a real good opportunity for someone else, why not Kappy? Kappy plays hard and works hard. He's got to adjust his game a bit, but he can."
The Leafs power play, which came out of the gates strong last season, but was inconsistent down the stretch, will have a different look this season with new assistant coach Paul McFarland, who worked on Florida's bench last season, devising the game plan. During Sunday's practice, Marner was operating on the left flank instead of his usual office on the right side.
"Tried to work on on my one T, because I thought I was going to be in that position," Marner revealed. "We talked about it at the end of last season and throughout the summer what was going to happen with the power play so try and adjust quickly, try to be more of a shooter."
Marner says he'll be on the same unit as Matthews again. Matthews, a lefty, was on the right flank during his special teams session and was hammering one-timers before and after the drills.
"It's just a feel-out moment now seeing what Paul wants to do with us and how he wants it to run," Marner said. "His resume last year, his team's power-play ranking was pretty high up there so hopefully that can happen to this team."
McFarland guided the Panthers to the second best power-play percentage in the NHL last season (26.8 per cent). The Leafs ranked eighth (21.8 per cent).
With the Leafs practising in three different groups, it’s hard to read too much into the power play work so far, but here’s what some of the notable units have looked like:
Has Jason Spezza gotten over not winning the Stanley Cup in Ottawa?
"No," he said mustering a smile, "you think about it all the time. That's why I'm still going. That's why you want to change your role, you want to stick around, you want to keep playing. I love coming to the rink and I love playing the game. When you haven't won and you've played this long it's definitely something you think about all the time."
Spezza, who played 11 of his 16 previous NHL seasons with the Senators making the Cup Final in 2007, compares the feel around this young Leafs team with the Ottawa teams that contended for a title.
"It does feel similar with the really dynamic offensive players, the really mobile defencemen and then a few defensive guys," he said. "It does feel similar, to be honest, I was thinking about that the other day how with these guys coming and how dynamic they are offensively. I think we can be a team that really overwhelms teams offensively. You see when those guys start snapping the puck around and hanging on to it that can be a headache to play against."
The Leafs held a team-bonding event last night with some players getting "screeched in" becoming honorary Newfoundlanders. The ceremony includes reciting an age-old saying ("Long may your big jib draw"), eating a piece of bologna (also known as a Newfoundland steak), kissing a cod and then taking a shot of Screech rum.
"The whole ceremony beforehand, laying down some history about The Rock, that was pretty sweet," said Auston Matthews. "I figured I’d want to kiss it first and (other Leafs) could have the sloppy seconds."
"It's quite the scene," said Tyson Barrie. "I like rum, but that didn't taste good at all to me. I was last in line to kiss the fish so it was a bit slobbery when I got around to it. I definitely made a mistake. Freddie (Andersen) got it before and it was just all wet and it looked disgusting."
"That was a good looking cod," said Morgan Rielly with a smile.
Notable lines at Sunday's practice: