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Maple Leafs shuffle lines ahead of Mitch Marner's imminent return


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Ryan Smitheram
April 5, 2024  (2:52 PM)
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Mitch Marner is finally set to return to action this weekend
Photo credit: JOHN E. SOKOLOWSKI-USA TODAY SPORTS

Ahead of Mitch Marner's upcoming return to action on Saturday, Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe made some unexpected lineup changes.

The Leafs did not take to the ice on Thursday following a 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night. Instead, they took a day off to reflect before returning to practice on Friday morning.
With Mitch Marner slated to return after missing the past month with an ankle injury, Keefe shuffled his forward lines accordingly to make room for Marner. The million dollar question of who will come out of the lineup to make room for Marner has finally been answered. Unfortunately, the unlucky player coming out of the lineup is Nick Robertson.
It's been a trying season for Robertson, who has finally been able to remain healthy for an extended stretch for the first time since he made his NHL debut back in 2020. The expectation coming into the season was for Robertson to take a huge step up this season, and while he has to an extent, the details of his game have not improved enough to the point where Sheldon Keefe can trust him in any situation. As such, Robertson is still very much a work in progress.
Robertson has already expressed his displeasure with coming out of the lineup this season. He spoke about his recent demotion after he was sent back to the Toronto Marlies ahead of the March 8th trade deadline to give the Leafs some extra financial flexibility. The fact of the matter is that with Robertson being one of only two players on the roster who is exempt from requiring waivers to move up and down between the NHL and the AHL, he may have to make peace with the fact that he's probably going to be the odd man out until his entry-level deal expires and he can sign a regular NHL contract.

Where will the Leafs slot Mitch Marner in upon his return this weekend?

With Marner back, many expected Keefe to reunite Marner with Auston Matthews on the Leafs' top line, but surprisingly, Keefe has opted not to. Instead, Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi remain with Matthews on the top line while Marner skated on a new-look second line with John Tavares and Bobby McMann. For Keefe, the decision to place Marner on that 2nd line while Tavares and McMann are both playing so well is an interesting proposition. Both McMann and Tavares like to shoot the puck and Marner is the team's best puck distributor. When he and Matthews play together, the puck is always going in one direction. Straight to Matthews. With Marner slotting in next to Tavares and McMann, though, Marner now has two active shooters to distribute the puck to. Options are nice to have.
With Marner saddling up next to Tavares and McMann on the second line, Keefe is opting to take a run at trying William Nylander on the third line again. This is an experiment he's attempted a few times, but this time, Nylander will be paired with Pontus Holmberg and Matthew Knies. This trio can absolutely do some damage and create some nightmare matchup scenarios for opposing teams.
With the top 3 lines set, obviously we know who will be patrolling the ice on the fourth line. The trio of Connor Dewar, David Kampf and Ryan Reaves were the Leafs' best line against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday and will remain intact.
On the back end, Conor Timmins is expected to be coming out of the lineup in favour of veteran Mark Giordano. Keefe had paired Giordano with T.J. Brodie on the third pair - shades of their old Calgary Flames days.
Leafs Nation rejoice, as Simon Benoit remains in the lineup and was paired with Jake McCabe during Friday's practice. Morgan Rielly and Ilya Lyubushkin will remain together following Wednesday's loss. Their body of work together since the Leafs re-acquired Lyubushkin from the Anaheim Ducks at the end of February has been very good, so it certainly makes sense to keep them together.
Still without Timothy Liljegren and Joel Edmundson, we are likely going to see a number of combinations on the blueline over the Leafs' final handful of games as Keefe looks for pairings that work in a pinch. Edmundson took a step forward in his recovery as he joined the Leafs for practice and skated with Timmins as the fourth pair. Keefe noted he would not be available this week, but given the fact that he took part in practice, Edmundson could return early next week if all goes well.
In goal, the Leafs had four goalies at practice as both Martin Jones and Matt Murray also took part. Obviously, Murray remains sidelined as he works his way back from bilateral hip surgery, so we're not likely to see him suit up at all this year, barring a wild turn of events and a whole lot of injuries in net. He remains 4th in the pecking order with the playoffs approaching.
After a less than stellar performance against Tampa on Wednesday, it's likely that Woll will be backing up Ilya Samsonov for Saturday's game against the Canadiens. Samsonov has clearly been the better of the two netminders in recent weeks and remains the likely playoff starter. Samsonov was actually nominated for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy on Friday, so congratulations to him as well.
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5 AVRIL   |   695 ANSWERS
Maple Leafs shuffle lines ahead of Mitch Marner's imminent return

Are you surprised to see Nick Robertson as the odd man out with Mitch Marner getting set to return?

Yes, he has been playing well lately20028.8 %
No, I expected Robertson to be coming out30243.5 %
This kid needs to play...19327.8 %
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