Matt Read takes a flyer with Maple Leafs — and figures it’s his last shot
|Toronto Star 17 Sep 2019 at 18:35|
“It’s kind of the last go at trying to be an NHL hockey player again,” said Read. “It’s obviously a great opportunity. This is a great team.
Read is not alone, of course, in trying to earn a spot on the fourth line. The incumbents are still around: Frederik Gauthier, Trevor Moore and Nic Petan, each taking turns killing penalties in practices this week.
Some Marlies are also pushing for promotion from the AHL: Egor Korshkov, Jeremy Bracco, Pierre Engvall and Mason Marchment, all of them working mostly on power plays.
And some free agents have been brought in, again with an eye on special teams: Jason Spezza, Nick Shore, Pontus Aberg and Kenny Agostino.
“It’s tough,” said Aberg. “It’s a really good team, good depth, from the American league team up to here. It’s tough, but I’m going to do everything I can.”
After the Leafs opened their pre-season against the Senators in St. John’s on Tuesday night, Read and Aberg could see their first pre-season action in the return engagement Wednesday night in Ottawa.
In a way, they’re vying to become the next Tyler Ennis — the winger who was underused with the Minnesota Wild and found new life in Toronto, then parlayed that into a one-year deal in Ottawa worth $800,000 U.S.
Read grew up in Ilderton, Ont. near London, and is friends with another Ilderton notable: figure skater Scott Moir. The lure of the Leafs was pretty strong.
“When I heard (professional tryout) here, I thought it’d be nice to have something on paper, where you have an income and a job somewhere,” said Read. “I thought this was the best spot to be. When I heard it was Toronto, I was very excited (after) growing up in the area.”
Read has 449 NHL games to his credit, with 88 goals and 100 assists. His best season was his first in 2011-12, with 24 goals and 23 assists.
That sparked a pretty good run with the Flyers, but he hasn’t been a full-time NHLer since the 2016-17 season after a series of injuries. He split last season between the Wild (12 games) and Iowa of the AHL (61 games). He says the injuries, including a high-ankle sprain, have all healed.
“This is the first summer I’ve had in a long time where I’ve been healthy the whole summer,” said Read. “I felt good. I’ve been on the ice a lot more than normal, trying to keep up with all these young guys who’ve been on the ice the whole year.
“I’ve changed a little bit, but being healthy is probably the biggest aspect, having come to camp and having good health and being able to skate out there.”
If he makes the final roster, it will likely be at the NHL minimum of $700,000 — the Leafs are tight to the salary cap and can’t afford much more — and because assistant coach David Hakstol believes he can help the penalty-killing unit. Hakstol also coached the Flyers when Read was there.
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“They talked to my agent a little bit, and they’re looking for a solid two-way forward that can play on any line, fill in some spots and help this team get to the next level,” said Read. “They said there are some open spots up for grabs. It’s up to me to have a good camp and show what I’ve got.”
Aberg, meanwhile, has played 127 NHL games for Nashville, Edmonton and Minnesota with 17 goals and 26 assists. The Swede was drawn to Toronto in part because the AHL team is in the same town. He’s a single father of a 3-year-old daughter (Molly), with help from his mom Annethe.
“Nice to have them over here,” said Aberg. “Keeps your mind off hockey. When you’re not at the rink, you can play with your kid.”