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On the Bubble: Tyler Ennis

The people have asked, we’re delivering. More On the Bubble posts. By people, I mean hypothetically there were a few of you that read these posts, and would read them again. So that’s all the demand we need to keep on filling your eyes with replacement level content.

Much to his own chagrin, Tyler Ennis has been on a steady journey over the past three seasons to being a replacement level player. A lot of that could change starting tomorrow, as Ennis looks to be the primary benefactor of William Nylander not being in training camp.

That all could be fairly short lived, but it’s certainly a great opportunity for a bubble player to show he can keep up in the top six, and that’s ultimately the role Ennis needs to fill if he’s wanting to stick around the Leafs…

The Story on Ennis

Ennis suffered the unfortunate indignity this summer of being bought out by the Minnesota Wild, the team that is basically the “What Not To Do” guide of cap management. Of course, you can’t really blame them when Ennis only produced 22 points last season, a number up from his 13 in 51 games in 2016-17, but the beginning of an unfortunate trend since returning from a sports hernia surgery, and also a series of concussions.

So now the Leafs are paying a 28 year old, 5’9 forward, $650k to either have a magnificent rebound year and help the Leafs win the cup in a four game sweep instead of the projected 5 or 6 games we’re anticipating now, or Ennis will be with the Marlies, as veteran doing his best to rehab his game and take another shot at the NHL next season.

It’s worth noting that Tyler Ennis has also played some center in his time around the league. Considering the Leafs have “TBD” pencilled in as the 4C at this point, it would be interesting to see if Ennis finds his way into that role, although Ennis has likely set his aspirations higher than the 4th line, as that was a source of tension during his time in Minnesota.

Numbers

Looking at the past three years, there isn’t a lot of good to talk about…

The overall career numbers for Ennis are much rosier…

via eliteprospects.com

Now, the past three years, especially considering they reflect his current age and post injury condition are a lot more telling, and the .61 point per game pace from 2009-16 isn’t as relevant as the .28 pace of the past two seasons.

With Position Team TOI With CF% With Ennis CF% Without CF% Without Ennis GF% With Ennis GF% Without GF% Without Ennis
Matt Cullen C MIN 294:16:00 45.83 47.23 37.59 59.09 48.39 42.86
Eric Staal C MIN 265:36:00 48.64 46.19 49.15 45.83 53.13 58.82
Charlie Coyle C MIN 237:16:00 47.67 48.29 44.6 61.11 50 59.52
Joel Eriksson Ek C MIN 103:16:00 51.53 46.79 46.57 50 51.06 52.63
Mikko Koivu C MIN 89:58:00 40.67 47.74 50.7 0 52.83 54.1
via naturalstattrick.com

For the discussion about Ennis being a fourth liner in Minnesota, it appears that he had a chance to play with a number of centers, and while he was able to improve the outputs of Matt Cullen and Charlie Coyle, the opposite was true of Staal, Eriksson Ek, and Koivu. Finding the right fit for Ennis will probably be critical to determining where or if he lands on the Leafs roster. And while he’s getting his chance to play with Matthews in Nylander’s absence, it might be better for Ennis that he gets a long and serious look with Nazem Kadri instead.

Best Case Scenario for Ennis?

It’s having Mike Babcock as his coach. In the tie goes to the veteran world, Ennis could find his experience moving him up the roster ahead of guys like Kapanen, Johnsson, and of course, Josh Leivo. With Bob McKenzie talking about moving Hyman off of Matthew’s line in favour of Marleau, that opens up an opportunity for Ennis to establish himself as the offensive replacement for Marleau on Kadri’s wing, especially if Connor Brown is reaping veteran status rewards as well and claiming the right side over Kasperi Kapanen.

Ennis is the affordable hail mary gamble to replace van Riemsdyk, and realistically no one should be expecting him to do so. He might be an option for buying a bit of time for Johnsson and Kapanen to play at the NHL level in more sheltered roles while getting a chance to prove himself as well. Competition is good, and Ennis provides that. The best case scenario for Ennis is he wins that competition.

Worst Case Scenario?

It’s having Mike Babcock as his coach. Babcock might love having veterans in the lineup, but he also loves wingers who provide the edge that he gets from Brown, Hyman, and to some extent Kapanen. It’s very likely that Babcock is going to try and use players who fit his model of play, and if that’s the case, guys like Mason Marchment, Carl Grundstrom, and Trevor Moore could increase the number of wingers that Ennis is going to be competing with.

Ennis could very well find himself looking at an AHL job because Marner, Nylander, and Johnsson are the only undersized wingers or non-physical wingers that Mike Babcock is willing to entertain at this time. Whether that means that Ennis winds up on the Marlies or gets claimed off waivers is debatable, but neither option probably holds a lot of appeal.

Well, at one point Ennis was pretty darn good. Star might have been a stretch, but he at least has one really impressive World Hockey Championship appearance to his name. It’s a stretch to think that Ennis is going to do more than push young players and ultimately settle into a 13th forward role, but if we dream big, Ennis could be a great asset for the Leafs top nine. He probably wouldn’t be here if there wasn’t some belief that it’s possible.

What’s Likely to Happen?

The pressbox battle is on, Leivo vs. Ennis…

The numbers say we should be expecting Leivo to win, but numbers don’t mean a lot compared to veteran work ethic, and I’m sure Ennis will demonstrate that in spades during training camp. That probably means that Ennis will slot into either a bottom six or 13th forward role to start the season, at the expense of a younger player that we’ve become emotionally attached to.

At $650k for the season, Ennis is a bargain and a bargain that isn’t likely to clear waivers easily to land on the Marlies. If the Leafs don’t use him, they’ll lose him. That’s probably something Toronto made peace with when he was signed.

Personally, I want to see Ennis as the 4th line center. Basically spend training camp “Scott Hatteberg-ing” him from a winger into a center, giving him the opportunity to work with wingers like Kapanen and Johnsson in a sheltered role that could benefit all three of them, and giving them a chance to fight for openings on the top three lines throughout the season. That’s probably not likely to happen, but a forward group along the lines of…

Hyman-Tavares-Marner
Marleau-Matthews-Nylander
Leivo-Kadri-Brown
Johnsson-Ennis-Kapanen

is about as good as it gets.

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  • Ty

    I think this is Leivo’s chance. Beast on the boards, sick shot, can cycle! If he has developed any sort of net front game he’ll have the tools that the Leaf forward lines need more of. He could complement a line with a faster winger on the other side.

    • Ty

      In fact if he brings a bit of a physical edge to his game there will be another component the Leaf forward lines could your more of. He’s put some decent hits on guys. Pumps up your team and the crowd sometimes. Entertaining for the fans. Agitating to the opposition.