Travis Dermott of the Toronto Maple Leafs needs more ice time.
Travis Dermott is one of the best defenseman in the Toronto Maple Leafs system. He is also possibly one of the best in the Atlantic Division. In 30 games played this season, Dermott has registered 2 goals, 6 assists, 17:38 average time on ice, 54.8 corsi-for percentage (CF%), 27 blocks, 49 hits and 13 take-aways.
Unfortunately, statistics doesn’t really describe Dermott too well. The way that Dermott can skate from the defensive zone thru the neutral zone to the offensive zone with the puck and avoid giveaways is phenomenal. It’s seems a little dull to hear that a defenseman is capable of going from zone to zone un-touched, but not many Toronto Maple Leafs defensemen can do that on a consistent basis.
In the below GIF from Nick DeSouza of The Leafs Nation (@NickDeSouza_), you see an example of Dermott at work. Skating from zone to zone with the puck and looking absolutely stud-like against the Buffalo Sabres in an early December match-up.
Travis Dermott. pic.twitter.com/WgFO1WdDEU
— Nick DeSouza (@NickDeSouza_) December 5, 2018
In addition, Dermott’s stretch passing capabilities are flawless. Dermott’s vision is exceptional when its comes to finding his teammates in all three zones and identifying the best player to target with a pass. There is no other Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman that I personally trust to deliver a stretch pass. When you watch another defenseman on the Maple Leafs make a stretch pass, you cringe if you are a fan. Yet, Dermott can complete a stretch pass that looks like art.
Zaitsev Is Still The Favourite
With how well Dermott has been doing, you would think that it would warrant more ice time. Unfortunately, Mike Babcock, head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs doesn’t agree. Instead, he’s been giving more ice time to Nikita Zaitsev.
It’s frustrating as a Toronto Maple Leafs fan to see Zaitsev get more ice time. At this very moment, Zaitsev is averaging 20:39 ATOI per night. In addition, he currently owns a 47.1 CF%, 73 blocks, 55 hits and 2 take-aways.
The biggest concern with Zaitsev is that he appears to be timid at times and at other times he just seems clueless. In the below GIF from Nick DeSouza, you see Zaitsev looking clueless against the Carolina Hurricanes. Zaitsev stares down the puck-carrier, but then watches the puck carrier come into the zone with the puck and doesn’t appear to fight for the puck. Instead, he just waves his stick out at the puck.
Zaitsev is in between attacking the puck-carrier and watching the passing lane.
In the end, he does neither well….. This is a recording. pic.twitter.com/sHH91oK9wh
— Nick DeSouza (@NickDeSouza_) December 12, 2018
In addition, he’s getting more looks in critical moments. For example, Babcock opted to go with Zaitsev over Dermott on Saturday night against the Florida Panthers. While Babcock thinks that playing Zaitsev over Dermott in critical situations is a great idea, I certainly don’t. You need a defenseman in critical situations who can control the flow of the game and Zaitsev hasn’t proven that he can be that defenseman.
Dubas Wants Change Too
In a press conference on Monday, Kyle Dubas, general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs was open and blunt about defensive changes that need to happen.
Dubas mentioned that the Toronto Maple Leafs need to “improve their breakouts from the defensive zone”. He went onto say that if the Maple Leafs still look flat when it comes to puck moving in late February that he might have to make a trade or two.
With Dubas’ comments in the public’s hands, you’d think that Babcock needs to re-think playing time when it comes to his defensive core. If I were in Babcock’s shoes, I would give Igor Ozhiganov and Travis Dermott some more ice time. In exchange, I would reduce Jake Gardiner and Nikita Zaitsev’s minutes, so that both defensive pairings have roughly equal time on the ice.
If that change is made, the Toronto Maple Leafs will appear much stronger on the back end and will be able to control the puck much better. Plus, they’ll be able to win more hockey games.
stats from NHL.com and hockey-reference.com
featured image photo credit – Josh Tessler