Dennis Hildeby works his crease and reads the play
Photo credit: Christian Bonin TSGPhoto

Leafs narrowly avoid making a massive mistake involving top prospect

Published January 25, 2024 at 10:41
BY MIKE ARMENTI

The Leafs' goaltending woes have been a constant topic of discussion this season, but thankfully, with Ilya Samsonov finding his form and putting up back-to-back solid efforts against Seattle and Winnipeg, earning wins against two very game opponents, perhaps the Leafs are finally ready to turn a corner this season and go on a bit of a run.

With Samsonov playing so well this week and Joseph Woll's return looming, the Leafs may once again be in a good spot as far as goaltending is concerned and fan put to bed all of the negative attention surrounding what's happening in the crease in Toronto. However, something that has flown under the radar over the past couple of weeks is just how lucky the Leafs were to have avoided making the whole thing worse.

At the peak of Samsonov's struggles, the Leafs had placed him on waivers and recalled Marlies standout Dennis Hildeby to play backup to the veteran Martin Jones. At the time, Hildeby was playing out of his mind in the American Hockey League, and appeared deserving of a recall. Fans weren't amused, though, by the fact that the Leafs didn't give Hildeby any starts during his recall. As it turns out, it's a good thing they didn't.

Whether they saw something in his game that they didn't think would translate well to the NHL or that they were simply trying to shelter him as best as possible to avoid shattering his confidence, the Leafs opted to ride the hot hand, allowing Jones to start every game during Hildeby's recall. The youngster still got the benefits of being up with the NHL club, including some developmental opportunities he wouldn't have had in the AHL, namely, having the likes of Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner firing pucks his way during practice. Nothing against the AHL shooters, but they're not in the same stratosphere as those 3.


Prior to his recall with the Leafs, Hildeby's save percentage was somewhere in the .920 range. However, it has dipped considerable since then, plummeting to a .909 SV% amid a very rough stretch for the first-year AHLer. Hildeby allowed 6 goals against on 18 shots last night, and has allowed at least 3 goals in 6 of his last 8 games, as mentioned by The Athletic's Joshua Kloke.

Had he endured such a fate in the NHL, the weight of it may have crushed Hildeby's spirits and hindered him moving forward. The fact that he's enduring these hardships where he is now is just another step in the development curve without all of the pressure of being responsible for a team's NHL season. Make no mistake about it, this current run still sucks for Hildeby, but it's not going to impact him nearly as much as thinking he has blown his opportunity to be an NHL goaltender and getting inside of his own head. By overplaying Martin Jones, the Leafs very well may have dodged a bullet and saved their top goalie prospect outside of Joseph Woll a lot of embarrassment.

POLL
January 25   |   647 answers
Leafs narrowly avoid making a massive mistake involving top prospect

Did the Leafs make the right all by not playing Dennis Hildeby when he was up with the NHL club?

Yes, it was the right call26140.3 %
No, maybe an NHL start would have helped him23536.3 %
We'll never know, but I'm not dwelling on it15123.3 %
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