The Leafs continued to sign players after John Tavares this off season including Tyler Ennis joining the Blue and White after years of playing down the QEW. The Leafs are at a unique crossroad for their upcoming season, and the Ennis signing shows that the players will have to earn their spot with versatility and role filling ability being most important.
With three lines that could feature as top units for other teams, the Leafs have incredible centre depth meaning their fourth line will need to be two things – energetic and versatile. It’s not difficult to see that the Matthews line and Tavares line will each take about 20 minutes a night. Mix in a line with Kadri, Johnsson, and Kapanen scooping up a good chunk of the remaining 20 minutes and it becomes pretty obvious that the fourth line will need to have players that are specialists and players who can move up the line up as needed.
For Tyler Ennis his positional play provides some versatility in being able to play both left wing and centre. While more comfortable on the wing now, Ennis did win Sabres team MVP as their top centre man in 2013/14 just three years into his NHL career. And while his offensive abilities may not be what they used to be, he could be in for some extra juicy minutes with some line swapping every night.
This swapping would be on Auston Matthews line with noted penalty killing dynamo Zach Hyman. Babcock likes to roll his lines and pressure off of the back of a successful penalty kill which has caused him to not use the Matthews line post PK in the past. Now, with Ennis having the ability to step in an play a similar role to Hyman at even strength we could see some more Matthews and Ennis as a response unit… or ya know he could just roll Taveras’ line. Regardless, this scenario shows the versatility that having quick skilled players on the roster provide a coach.
Another thing the Ennis signing signals is the desire for roster competition by Dubas and Babcock. Free agent signings and NHL veterans like Ennis, Jooris, Lindholm, Cracknell and the ever present extra forward Josh Leivo will bring experience to the race for a limited roster spot. With it being extremely likely Connor Brown will remain cemented on the right wing position all of these players will be battling for two spots. Leafs fans should keep a keen eye on prospects like Pierre Engvall and Carl Grundstrom to push for a fourth line spot, too.
With limited 5 on 5 time Ennis and the other candidates fighting for the fourth line will need to show effectiveness in limited time, and roster versatility. Again, like with the Leafs goal tending, there is roster depth that is making positions tough to come by which is nothing but a good thing for the Leafs. It appears that the Detroit mentality Babcock had sustained success is being brought to and embraced in Toronto – insulate your prospects and over develop; no free roster spots!