Jun 29, 2014, 9:40 AM EDT
While that deal netted the Leafs a physical blue liner, it also sent Dion Phaneuf‘s top-pairing partner out of town. That means there’s a spot next to the Leafs captain and a chance to play a lot more minutes open and Leafs GM Dave Nonis said it creates a big opportunity for young defensemen Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly as TSN’s Jonas Siegel shared.
“Those guys are going to have to take steps forward,” Nonis said of the promising duo. “It might be a lot to ask for Morgan a little bit in his second year, but he made some pretty big strides last year and we would expect that he’ll take some more next [year]. And I think Jake is a good possibility [of doing the same] as well.”
Both players are very young but have tremendous skill.
Gardiner, 23, saw big minutes playing on the second pairing with Cody Franson and averaged 21:05 of ice time per game last season. Rielly, 20, had an impressive rookie season last year with 27 points and averaged 17:11 time on ice per game while paired with Tim Gleason on the third pairing.
Gardiner seems like the logical candidate to take Gunnarsson’s spot unless coach Randy Carlyle is reticent to break up that pairing with Franson. Either way, Phaneuf is going to have a skilled, speedy new partner to keep up with.
- Captain no more: Sharks strip Thornton of ‘C’ 35
- Tank defense: NHL changes up Draft Lottery format 45
- Fanspeak: Clarke voted greatest Flyer in franchise history 32
- Different tune: Moore hasn’t settled with Bertuzzi, says brother 27
- Rangers win Kevin Hayes sweepstakes 25
- Kovalev compares Subban to Leetch, says he isn’t worth the money 50
- Under pressure: Rick Nash 9
- Wang sells Isles to ex-Caps owner Ledecky 41
- Report: MLSE CEO Leiweke to step down (Update: Leiweke denies move) 6
- Report: Bertuzzi-Moore case settled out of court (Update: Bertuzzi’s lawyer confirms) 35