Today, in a bit of a surprise, it was reported that Auston Matthews would be missing the next three weeks because of a knee sprain he suffered against the New York Rangers. This injury isn’t good for the team; but, if it had to come, it really couldn’t come at a better time. In addition, it will give the coaching staff a chance to see who’s who in the zoo.
The timing of the injury is favourable for the Maple Leafs because they have a few days off between games and the All-Star break is coming up. This allows more recovery time for Matthews – with fewer games to miss. But it also gives the team a chance to adjust to his absence.
Call me crazy, but I’m anxious to see who the team slots into his top-line center position.
It Will Be Interesting To See Who Jumps to the Top
With Matthews out of the lineup, it will be interesting to see how the Maple Leafs adjust their lineup and who steps up to fill his role. In the first game without him, the team tried William Nylander at the center. He had some success, and that’s a move I’ve been interested in seeing happen if there’s a chance to flip-flop Nylander and Tavares – moving Tavares to the wing.
However, the next game Matthews missed Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe jumped Alex Kerfoot to the center of a top-six unit. However, it could also be a good time to see if one of the youngsters might be ready for prime time.
Specifically, I’m thinking about Pontus Holmberg. I’d love to see him get a chance to play center at a higher place in the lineup. The question is: “Could he produce enough offence?”
The Case for Holmberg (and, For Others)
Holmberg has had a solid rookie season. I’m pretty sure he can perform at the NHL level. However, should he be able to perform well in a top-six role, it could mean (a) more opportunities for him to move up the lineup when the team is fully healthy and (b) a chance to rethink the future.
If Holmberg is up to the challenge, he could help the team deal with its perennial salary-cap issues. Perhaps, even starting as soon as next season. That’s the move I’d love to see. I think he needs a chance to show what he’s got.
However, if Holmberg were used, there’s also a case to be made for experimenting with some other ideas. For example, one could see Holmberg as an “offensive-type” center. At the same time, a player like David Kampf might be seen as a “defensive-type” center. If the team is down in a game, throw out Holmberg. If the team needs to protect a lead, throw out Kampf.
Holmberg Could Prove His Value to the Team – Starting Now
Obviously, Holmberg still needs to prove that he can handle the pressure of a top-six roll. However, who among us who has watched him play believes he can’t? Not me.
I think he’s destined for such a job with the team. This next week, he just might get a chance to audition for that future right now.