Tavares’ skill line, Matthews speed line, or Kadri’s physical line. Which line is the Toronto Maple Leafs biggest difference maker this season? It may be none of the above. The Leafs ever-changing fourth line has been an absolute game changer this season.
Trevor Moore – Frederik Gauthier – Tyler Ennis
Not bad considering the left winger is an unproven AHL graduate, the center is a flop firstrounder drafted a decade too late, and the right winger is a reclamation project league minimum signee.
Somehow, however, this line has been producing for the Leafs this season, more so in the last month than ever before. First and foremost, the trade of Par Lindholm for Nic Petan was a needed move that created a spot for AHL all-star and standout player Trevor Moore.
Organizational, Homegrown Talent
Moore, who boasts a fat stat line in the minors, has made waves since getting the call-up. In 12 games he’s put up 7 points and is posting a +4 rating. Not bad for only averaging 9:04 minutes a night!
Moore, a Californian native, has been appropriately rewarded for his hard nosed efforts in the Toronto Marlies. After proving he can cut it at the AHL level he took his limited chances by the collar and has forced his way onto this dynamically talented team now and for the future.
The ascension of Moore was foretold by the assertion of Frederik Gauthier as the de facto fourth line center over Lindholm. That move by Babcock pushed Lindholm to the left wing position, eventually allowing him to be replaced by Moore.
It should be noted, as well, that Gauthier has 12 points, the same amount as Lindholm in four fewer games and an average of 3 fewer average minutes a game this season.
Despite his draft position and lengthy maturing in the minors, Gauthier is proving to be an integral part of the Leafs plans this season. Why? Because he’s better than average at faceoffs, regardless of player match up. This allows Gauthier to be used as a backup center to close out games on the wing or jump off the penalty kill after retaining possession off the draw.
Ennis’ Veteran Presence
That leaves the wily vet on the right wing and line motivator, Tyler Ennis, as the last piece of the puzzle.
Ennis’ signing with Toronto was sort of an afterthought. Along with Josh Jooris and Adam Cracknell, Ennis signing in Toronto was thought to be a depth move with the player either getting traded or spending time in the AHL. How wrong we were.
Ennis’ impressive play earlier this season was more effort-based than results-based. That being said, since his February return from a broken ankle he has been electric. His Calgary hat trick was the cherry on top, showing he can dangle, shoot, and get fairly lucky, too.
Ennis has been rewarded with second unit power play time, as well, showing that the coach likes what he’s seeing from his comeback kid, too.
The Leafs Ennis-led smashing Calgary 6-2 is becoming a characteristic scoreline for the Buds. As their Western Conference road trip continues, we’ll get to see more of the newest Leaf and fourth line auditioner, Nic Petan.
Petan and Beyond
Another small, skilled, fast forward for the fourth line to use, Petan has the added bonus of the ability to play center. He’s relieving Frederik Gauthier tonight, who has played the lions share of minutes and games on the fourth unit this season.
Petan impressed in his one game with the Leafs, scoring a goal on his only shot of the game. He played 7:45 of the game and linked up well with Gauthier and Moore. Tonight he’ll see more minutes and will have to play with Ennis over the Gaut, which could pose a possible issue due to the size mismatch.
With the wheels on Petan, Ennis, and Moore, there shouldn’t be any issue with this unit skating through a rebuilding Vancouver team. It’ll be exciting to see how this line performs tonight and to also see if anyone can excel enough to force a move up to the third line when Nazem Kadri returns.