The Leafs opted for balanced split-squads in their 1-3 preseason thus far. What the dual squads have provided, however, is a good tryout for some towering defenders including an impressive physical specimen named Kevin Gravel.
There are no guarantees for roster spots with the cap-crunched Toronto Maple Leafs, but for $700k defenseman Kevin Gravel the preseason is offering a chance for him to crack some skulls and impress to win a spot.
With the Leafs playing in Buffalo, the home of the noted scumbag Buffalo Sabres, the Leafs brought some extra artillery for physical protection on the back end. Kevin Gravel played 20:07 that night, trailing only Barrie and Muzzin for ice time. And, while Gravel didn’t jump out on the score sheet, he ended the night a +1 with a couple of PIMs and a block, too.
The real highlights from Gravel, though, came with the toughness and physicality be brought to the game. See in the clip below. Gravel jumps in to protect his goalie, Michael Neuvirth after former Senators draft bust Curtis Lazar tries to injure his way onto an NHL roster:
— Leafs ALL Day (@LeafsAllDayy) September 21, 2019
Immediate to react and with actual punches not just stick checking, Gravel instantly adjusted the attitude in the game. The standard was set; don’t come hacking if you don’t want your face punched. I’m all in on team speed and skill over physicality, but just file this clip under ‘things you love to see’ for the hell of it.
Adding to their scumbag reputation, Rasmus Ristolainen, a -41 defenseman last year (despite his 43 points scored) threw a lazy, knee-on-knee hit on new Leafs defenseman Tyson Barrie in open ice. Keep your head up, I know, but both players are making the team so, relax hardo, it’s preseason.
Anyways, while 6’4″ Ristolainen hides behind his teammate from 6’1″ skilled forward Kasperi Kapanen, Kevin Gravel took things in his own hands. The defenseman enacts Hammurabi’s Code – an eye for an eye – and swallows up Sam Reinhart before trying to crush him to death, à la the Mountain from Game of Thrones.
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) September 22, 2019
Could he challenge for a roster spot this year? Absolutely. Mike Babcock loves a big, physical defenseman who isn’t afraid to mix it up in front of the net and Gravel is exactly that. He looks metaphorically head and shoulders above Ben Harpur for the potential “big man” roster spot on the back end.
Will Babcock contradict himself and put Gravel on his off side to get some grit in the lineup? Only time will tell. Gravel has already played well enough to be in contention, it’s fully up to Marincin to now lose the job which is completely plausible.