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In with Zach, out with Mitch.
At some point during the 2019-20 season, coach Mike Babcock might have a full Maple Leafs lineup at his disposal.
Just not on Wednesday night in New York against the Islanders, or for the foreseeable future.
Finally, winger Zach Hyman, whose on-ice diligence should be a blueprint for his teammates to follow, will make his season debut after recovering from knee surgery, lining up alongside captain John Tavares.
In a perfect world, or one that the intense Babcock could enjoy more, Mitch Marner would be on the right side of the line, ready to help give the Leafs the same kind of creativity that made the trio so dangerous last season.
Not happening, of course, not with Marner on the sideline for at least the next four weeks with a right ankle injury.
Kasperi Kapanen gets that shot in Marner’s place. For now.
“We’re 20 games in, we’re still searching,” Babcock said after practice on Tuesday. “We thought we were going to have something worked out by (Tuesday) and it has not worked out. So we will figure something else out.”
The positive, and it’s a rather large one, is the return of Hyman. While it could take the 27-year-old several games to get up to speed, as it does for any player who has missed training camp and a significant portion of the regular season, his presence, even as he gets into game shape, should give the Leafs some juice.
There’s no concern that Hyman, who has been medically cleared, will put too much on his own shoulders to make an impact from his first shift.
“I have learned just to do what I do best and not worry about other things and just play my game, play simple,” Hyman said. “Hopefully, I will just pick up where I left off on that front and just have a good mindset of what I need to do out there and not going to go try to do too much. It’s exciting, I’m excited to go.”
Marner confirmed he suffered a high ankle sprain, which could mean he will be out longer than just four weeks. Still, as disappointed as Marner is to be out of the lineup for an extended period, he was not beating himself up when he spoke to reporters on Tuesday.
Marner, who has missed one game already, played in all 82 games in each of the past two seasons after missing five as a rookie in 2016-17.
“You’re always frustrated because you can’t get out there with the guys,” Marner said. “You can’t go on the trips with them, you can’t help them out. You feel you are missing from the team a little bit.
“At the same time, there is always positives, I’m going to try to really focus on getting stronger and when I come back, try to make my shot more lethal. Work on my upper-body strength. Hopefully when I get back my shot is a little better and I can score more.”
Marner had 18 points (four goals and 14 assists) in 18 games prior to the injury. He is wearing a walking cast on his right leg, and he hopes to have made enough progress to have it removed on Friday.
Hyman will be activated from long-term injured reserve, and Marner will be placed on it.
The Leafs, losers of two in a row after winning four of six, on Tuesday also did the expected, recalling goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo, as well as forward Nic Petan, from the Toronto Marlies. Sent to the Marlies was goaltender Michael Hutchinson, who cleared waivers.
Babcock has been anticipating having Hyman back for a few weeks now, and usually has been quite effusive in what that would mean for the team.
On Tuesday, Babcock toned it down to a degree.
“He just works, right?” Babcock said. “Works like a dog. Can he get on the forecheck and get us the puck back like he always does? I don’t know the answer to that for sure. How can he be on that right-hand face-off circle on the penalty kill? I don’t know that either. So I’m going to watch just like you and we’re going to figure it out.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019