The Kids Are Alright – Leafs prospects make their debuts

The Leafs were inactive on Monday’s trade deadline, but the team recalled five players from the Toronto Marlies,

William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, Zach Hyman, Nikita Soshnikov and Ben Smith all made their debuts for the Maple Leafs in the team’s matchup against Tampa Bay at Air Canada Centre. All but Smith played in their first ever NHL game.

While the Leafs were edged 2-1 by the Lightning, the youngsters gave the sellout crowd a glimpse into the team’s bright future. The unit of Nylander, Kapanen and Hyman – which has been lightning the lamp at Ricoh Coliseum – combined for seven shots on goal while logging significant minutes.

“It was lots of fun,” Nylander said. “I think we created some chances. If I maybe could have scored one goal, but it was lots of fun so I think we gained a lot of experience from today and just keep building on from that.” The Leafs’ highly-touted 2014 first-round draft pick had a particularly strong shift early in the second period, shielding the puck effectively while maintaining veteran poise.

Hyman was assigned to the Leafs penalty-killing unit – a role he enjoys with the Marlies – and also set up defenceman Matt Hunwick with a cross-ice pass for a glorious scoring chance in the third period.

Coach Mike Babcock was impressed by the newcomers. “I thought they were good,” Babock said. “They’re fast. They’re hard on the puck. They’ve got skill. Kapanen, obviously, has breakaway speed. Nylander has skill. Hyman, a relentless worker who can still make plays, and Soshnikov I thought was good both ways so I thought those kids were good.”

After a scoreless first period, Tampa’s Tyler Johnson had a pair of goals in the middle frame. The second marker, which held up as the eventual game-winner, was a squeaker that barely eluded Garret Sparks through the five-hole, a play that the netminder would love to have back.

The only Leafs goal came with 2:15 left in regulation with Sparks on the bench. Nazem Kadri collected his 12th goal of the year with a quick wrist shot from the faceoff circle to beat Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Coincidentally, the game was played one night before a concert featuring The Who at ACC, scheduled on lead singer Roger Daltrey’s birthday. Leafs fans can see for miles, the talent offered by the next…generation. The kids are alright.

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