John Tavares’ injury has brought significant change to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ forward lines.
Instead of promoting one centre to fill the void left by the captain, head coach Mike Babcock has introduced change to the bottom three lines, leaving only the No. 1 unit of Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Andreas Johnsson in tact.
According to the combinations at Friday’s practice at Ford Performance Centre, Alexander Kerfoot and Ilya Mikheyev will move up in the lineup to complete the second line with Mitch Marner, while Jason Spezza will tackle third-line pivot duties with Trevor Moore and Kasperi Kapanen,
The revamped middle six leaves Nick Shore centering Frederik Gauthier and Dmytro Timashov, with Nic Petan alternating through alongside injured forward Zach Hyman.
#Leafs lines at practice:— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) October 18, 2019
A talented centre with proficiency in the faceoff circle, and a player who doesn‘t rely on plus foot speed, Spezza was probably best suited to deliver the best Tavares imitation. But instead of promoting a player that he’s been reluctant to even dress through the first two weeks of the season, Babcock has opted to overhaul the middle-six structure entirely, and rewarded Mikheyev and Kerfoot for their work to date.
Still, this is a big spot for Spezza, who is being given his best chance to a have a significant impact with the Maple Leafs with two of the fastest players on the roster at his wings. Babcock told reporters that slack from a defensive standpoint will be picked up by Matthews and Kerfoot, according to Sportsnet’s Luke Fox, potentially leaving Spezza with the opportunity against lesser competition to showcase an offensive skillset that has to this point remained dormant.
However that will not come in place of Tavares on the No. 1 power play unit, with William Nylander expected to serve in the bumper role vacated by the captain according to the set-up in practice.
More Maple Leafs coverage on Yahoo Sports