With all of the depth players the Leafs have either already signed, or plan to now that they have roster spots available, it’s easy to forget about Nick Spaling.
“Where did he come from?” you’re probably asking. To that I say “the Kessel trade”.
You likely respond with “didn’t we just get Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrington, and some picks?” I say “yes, but also Nick Spaling.”
You say, “I only care about prospects?” I say “well here is a feature on him anyways”.
You might be interested to know that this isn’t the first time Nick Spaling was involved in a player acquired to play with Sidney Crosby.
After being drafted by Nashville in 2007, Spaling split time between the Predators and their AHL affiliate in Milwaukee for a few years. In 2010-11, Spaling made the team on a full-time basis and put up respectable numbers for three years.
In the the summer of 2014, Spaling was dealt – along with Patric Hornqvist – to the Pittsburgh Penguins for James Neal. A trade that ended up being a huge get for Jim Rutherford.
Then, July 2nd of this past summer happened. Spaling is an oft-forgotten piece of the Kessel trade, but is a solid player that will be one of many medium-level NHL players that will fill out the Leafs roster.
First thing that jumped out to me when looking at Spaling’s career was his post-draft year in Kitchener. 72 points in 56 games is very good, but those 30 points in 20 playoff games is a really impressive stat. Kitchener went on to win the OHL championship that year. That team was lead offensively by Justin Azevedo, Mikkel Boedker, Spaling, and a pre-London Knight Nazem Kadri. We are all connected. How beautiful.
Spaling also had a pretty solid first year in the AHL, scoring just under 0.5PPG. Not bad. He bounced back and forth between the NHL and AHL before becoming a full timer in 2010-11. The rest is history – he’s an NHL third liner that can pot a couple goals.
And that’s supported by his HERO chart, in terms of his individual production. Where he isn’t as impressive is in his impact on his linemates. He’s actually decent defensively (and could maybe be used with yesterday’s subject Leo Komarov to form a defensive zone starting trio). But he doesn’t help generate much offensively. But I’d put more weight in his individual production, since he is going to mostly be used in a bottom six, if not bottom three, role.
But hey, if you’re bummed out about his shot generation numbers, just remember this: he’s not Tanner Glass.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2015-16
Despite not having much of a top end of the roster, the Leafs have a lot of NHL-calibre players either signed or on PTOs that will fill out the lineup. That said, it’s hard to envision what exactly the roster will look like at this point. This is where Spaling’s versatility will serve him well. He can move around whether Babcock feels he is short on left wingers or centres for a certain game.
As we saw with Henrik Zetterberg’s usage throughout his time in Detroit, Babcock isn’t afraid to move guys around. So in addition to his usage as a winger or centre, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Spaling used largely on the third line, or as part of a defensively-okay 4th line that can be used in the defensive zone.
It isn’t out of the realm to expect 25-30 points from Spaling this season. If that’s the case, he should be easily moveable to a playoff team looking to add some depth for a strong run. As a UFA at year’s end, it would surprise me more if he isn’t traded at the deadline.