Denis Malgin, Bobby McMann Surprise in Toronto Maple Leafs Preseason Openers

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Denis Malgin (62) makes a neutral zone pass in the Toronto Maple Leafs preseason opener on September 25, 2022.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are entering the 2022-23 season with perhaps the biggest amount of roster uncertainty, at least among depth forwards, in recent history. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. You can really never have enough options, and when you’re coached by a guy who loves to get crazy as much as Sheldon Keefe does, more opportunities for players to receive elevated roles just work with the way this team is constructed. So, when you’re watching Toronto Maple Leafs preseason games over the next few weeks, most fans will be paying attention to players who can jump up and play complementary roles next to star players, namely the glaring hole at left wing next to John Tavares.

Yesterday’s split-squad games against the Ottawa Senators, which the Leafs took on aggregate by a score of 6-5, helped gain some insight into who could be some under-the-radar names to track throughout the rest of camp.

Some Unexpected Surprises Highlight Toronto Maple Leafs Preseason Openers

The Malgin Hive Buzzes in Game One

If you watched the Leafs’ first outing on Sunday, a 4-1 win in a game that was seemingly played entirely in the second period, you noticed William Nylander. It’s quite a sight to see when a skilled veteran actually puts his best foot forward in the preseason, and despite only finishing with one assist, he seemed to have the puck on a string all night long and a level of confidence that’s scary to play against if he keeps it up.

His linemates? Pontus Holmberg, a 2018 sixth-round pick who’s shot up the ranks quickly over the past few years and a strong candidate to play top-six AHL minutes this season, and Denis Malgin, somewhat infamously acquired from the Florida Panthers in a one-for-one swap for Mason Marchment. He went pointless in eight games with the Leafs after the trade, and spent the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons in his home country of Switzerland, playing first on loan, and then opting not to sign a contract with Toronto for 2021-22. The Leafs did issue him a qualifying offer that offseason, however, keeping Malgin on their reserve list if he did decide to return.

Returning to the Show

After finishing fifth in NL scoring with 52 points in 48 games, Malgin did opt for an NHL return this offseason, signing a one-year, one-way deal for $750,000. Malgin faced competition with an extensive group of organizational depth, including Calle Järnkrok, Adam Gaudette, Nicolas Aubé-Kubel, Wayne Simmonds, Kyle Clifford, Nick Abruzzese, and Nick Robertson for an NHL job, let alone top-six minutes.

But playing on that line with Holmberg and Nylander, Malgin immediately clicked with the Leafs’ Swedish star. It only resulted in one goal – a goal-line pass from Nylander to a wide-open Malgin in the slot to give the Leafs a 2-1 lead. But it was apparent throughout the night that dangerous chances occurred when their unit was on the ice.

Gaudette received a look next to Tavares in that game, flanked by Mitch Marner on the other side, but if Keefe opts to reunite Tavares and Nylander as the preseason progresses, Malgin showed yesterday he at least deserves a look in that spot. The 25-year-old is a veteran of 192 NHL games, scoring 28 goals and 60 points.

Bobby McMann Has an Impressive McNight

Again, the player mentioned here wasn’t the de facto star of the show. In the Leafs’ 4-2 nightcap loss to Ottawa, Calle Järnkrok showed a glimpse of why he’ll be around for the next four seasons, sniping two identical goals on the wing of Michael Bunting and Auston Matthews to give the Leafs their only offence of the night.

But one player stood out to a lot of those watching as someone looking to make an impact. Bobby McMann, a veteran of exactly zero NHL games,  showed he’s ready to continue his climb up the organizational ladder after a breakout 2021-22 season with the Toronto Marlies. Cementing his place as a full-time AHLer for the first time, McMann’s 24 goals were second on the team after scoring just twice in 21 AHL games with the Marlies in 2020-21. It was a strong enough performance to earn McMann a two-year, two-way contract with the big boy club in April, keeping him within the organization until 2024.

The Point of the Preseason

The Toronto Maple Leafs preseason is not a lost cause for players who surely aren’t making the team, like McMann. It’s really the only chance coaches get to watch their organization’s depth play with NHL players, and although a preseason game doesn’t quite have the pace of the real thing, it’s still an important evaluation in terms of determining who a team will call up in case of injury.

McMann brought speed, energy, and consistency throughout the night, showing he could earn himself an NHL look if injuries strike the team’s bottom six. He played some time on the penalty kill, even earning a shorthanded breakaway that was foiled by Sens netminder Anton Forsberg.

McMann played just over 15 minutes total in the game, earning roughly a minute and a half of power play and penalty kill time each. He tied for the team lead in hits with Kyle Clifford (five), and was the only player outside of the Bunting–Matthews–Järnkrok line with three or more shots.

Continuing that type of aggressive, checking play could continue to propel McMann all the way to an NHL call-up if it becomes a necessity.