Toronto Maple Leafs: Ilya Mikheyev’s return could provide major boost

Ilya Mikheyev Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Ilya Mikheyev Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

Getting a chance to fully recover from his hand injury has Ilya Mikheyev on track to play an important role for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

While the COVID-19 pandemic came at an unideal time for the NHL, the Toronto Maple Leafs should receive a boost from the extra time off.

It will take time for players to get back up to speed but when you consider the shape the Leafs were in prior to the season being put on pause, the team is in a much better spot. Back on the ice were Jake Muzzin and Ilya Mikheyev who were dealing with injuries and their absence was noticeable.

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Mikheyev doesn’t play as much of a crucial role as Muzzin does but it was clear the Leafs had a tough time replacing the production Mikheyev brought. The Russian had 23 points in 39 games before suffering a gruesome injury and was asked to play various roles.

He will likely find himself playing with John Tavares and Mitch Marner as he was skating with them in the first official on-ice session at training camp. He certainly brings a different element upfront because of his size and desire to get to the net which has caught the attention of his teammates.

"“He’s been eye-opening to watch,” Marner told reporters via TSN’s Mark Masters, “how quick and how much better he’s really gotten. I was talking to [Jake Muzzin] a bit when they were both injured and he kept saying, ‘This Mikheyev is a monster and turning into an animal in the gym and on the ice.’“… From my point of view, in these scrimmages we’ve been playing, he’s been good finding the open ice and that lane for me or JT to find him and he’s not afraid to go to the net either.”"

The 25-year-old certainly has a lot to play for considering he will need a new deal after this season and finding a pay raise will be tough with the salary cap expected to remain flat. Toronto will also need more out of their depth players which was an issue when the team failed to produce consistently offensively especially on their California road trip.

This mini-training camp is also crucial for Sheldon Keefe because will also have some time to work with the team in a way he was never afforded because he came in during the season to replace Mike Babcock. He can make sure he gets the most of this group and you can bet Mikheyev will get his chance to be a difference-maker like he was before he got injured.

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Do you think Mikheyev will have a big impact in his current role or do you think it is too early to determine that? Let us know in the comments below.