Leafs prospect Marshall Rifai
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What you need to know about the Leafs' latest roster recall, Marshall Rifai, ahead of his NHL debut

Published February 19, 2024 at 10:25

With Sheldon Keefe confirming that defenseman William Lagesson was injured against the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday, the Toronto Maple Leafs called up a player that not many people might have heard of before today in Marshall Rifai.

The 25-year-old defenseman was called up on an emergency basis with Lagesson injured, Conor Timmins out in definitely with mononucleosis, Mark Giordano on leave after the passing of his father, and Morgan Rielly suspended. In a corresponding move, the Leafs also loaned Dennis Hildeby back to the Toronto Marlies.

After being used as a defenseman on Saturday night with the club shorthanded, Mitch Marner won't have to worry about being stationed on the blueline as the Leafs face-off against the St. Louis Blues today. Rifai is expected to take that spot and will look to continue to build momentum after a great start to his professional career.

He tallied 4 goals and 16 points with 118 PIMs in 69 games last year and currently has 2 goals and 11 points, while being a plus-15 and accruing 48 PIMs in 34 games this season. After getting into his first practice with the Leafs, Rifai was understandably excited about the opportunity:

"Obviously, it's exciting," he said after his first practice with the Leafs on Sunday. "Trying not to think too much, enjoy it. It's good to have some familiar faces here, so [I'm] just enjoying it."

Maple Leafs Assistant GM and Marlies GM Ryan Hardy was very complimentary about Rifai and knows he can make an immediate impact based on his unique skill-set:

"His skating is world-class, he's a competitive guy, he has incredible passion for hockey, incredible passion for getting better at hockey. He spends a lot of time focused on his nutrition, a ton of time focused on what he's doing in the gym with his body. I think if he can do that with all the things that he has in the six-foot-two frame that he has, there really certainly is a prospect there," Hardy said.

As for Sheldon Keefe, he's seen enough already to form his own opinion on the prospect. With the dire situation the Leafs have found themselves in on the back end, Keefe is more than happy that there are prospects like Rifai ready and raring to go:

"He's got some NHL attributes to him," Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said on Sunday. "He skates extremely well, moves around the ice, closes space very well. He's physical, a competitor, so there's attributes there that you really like. With the uncertainty with our defensemen we have right now, you need an extra body. The organization felt that he was the guy that made sense.

When you need a guy, which we need a guy right now, and opportunities present itself, that he's done a good job to prepare himself for this call."

Don't expect Rifai to light the lamp immediately, however. With his skill-set, he will be able to make an impact on the defensive side of the puck through his physicality and smooth skating from the defensive zone-out. Plus. we may see him bang some bodies and cause some havoc in the post-whistle scrums if we're lucky.

February 19   |   549 answers
What you need to know about the Leafs' latest roster recall, Marshall Rifai, ahead of his NHL debut

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