Leafs rookie defenseman Marshall Rifai
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Leafs head coach makes surprising comments about rookie Marshall Rifai following his NHL debut

Published February 20, 2024 at 10:43

With the Leafs' blueline in very bad shape at the moment, it's come as a surprise to many to see the team persevere and go 4-0-0 with Rielly serving his 5-game suspension. It's not only Rielly's absence that has stung, though, as veteran Mark Giordano has been away from the team, spending time with family and mourning the passing of his father. The Leafs are also without Conor Timmins (mononucleosis) and William Lagesson (upper-body), which forced them to recall a pair of Toronto Marlies over the past week.

Maxime Lajoie was the first Marlies defenseman to earn the call up, playing in the team's last two games against Anaheim and St. Louis. Marshall Rifai was the other Marlies defenseman called up this weekend and he made his NHL debut on Monday in a 4-2 win against the Blues as well.

Coming into this one, people really weren't sure what to think about the Leafs' chances of winning in St. Louis and extending their winning streak to four games. However, even with a severely depleted blueline, the Leafs did just that.

Following the game, Sheldon Keefe spoke about Rifai's NHL debut, and to the surprise of many, Keefe was actually very complimentary of the 25-year-old undrafted defenseman. Coming into Monday's game against the Blues, most knew only what Marlies GM Ryan Hardy had told them about Rifai's game, which is that he's a hard-worker, an excellent skater and a physical player. However, after the game, Keefe was quick to point out that he also makes very good decisions with the puck.

"He was steady. Very solid. Nothing stands out in terms of a mistake," Keefe said. "He moves around the rink well. He's competitive. He made good decisions with the puck. I thought he did a really good job for us here today."

Rifai ended his night with just over 11 and a half minutes of ice time, 1 shot on goal, 1 hit and 1 blocked shot. You really couldn't have asked for a much better NHL debut from a guy like Rifai, who was never really given any hope of making the NHL just a few short seasons ago.

Obviously, once Rielly's suspension is up and the Leafs get Giordano, Timmins and Lagesson back, Rifai will be back to 10th or 11th in the pecking order, but having him up for even just one game this season and having him showcase his skills the way he did against the Blues certainly helps to give the Leafs a glimpse into what he can be for the team in the future - a steady, reliable depth option, who can play sheltered minutes, who will make good decisions and who won't hurt the team. It's difficult to say what his ceiling is, but he does appear to have some translatable tools that could make him an NHL option in the future.

February 20   |   613 answers
Leafs head coach makes surprising comments about rookie Marshall Rifai following his NHL debut

Do you think Marshall Rifai has what it takes to be an NHL defenseman?

Yes, he looked solid39764.8 %
No, he's just a good depth guy12019.6 %
I missed the game, so I couldn't say9615.7 %
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