After a brief stint in purgatory, Wayne Simmonds will see action for the first time this season when the Toronto Maple Leafs visit the Winnipeg Jets to kick off a five-game road trip.
“We always play each other hard and these are fun games to play in,” Simmonds said following practice at Ford Performance Centre on Friday. “I’m looking forward to it.”
The 34-year-old missed the final cut when the Leafs trimmed their roster on Oct. 11. He cleared waivers and skated with skills and conditioning staff instead of reporting to the Toronto Marlies.
But an adductor injury to goaltender Matt Murray cleared some roster room for the Leafs to add three additional players, including Simmonds. And if this upcoming Leafs game against the Jets is anything like it has been between the two clubs in recent years, the timing couldn’t more appropriate.
“We have a lot of trust and belief in Simmer,” Maple Leafs captain John Tavares said. “Whatever the game kind of calls for, how he cares and sticks up for his teammates, It’s a great feeling for the group and gives you great appreciating for having someone like him.”
The Maple Leafs and Jets last met on Mar. 31 when the team’s combined for 58 minutes in a 7-3 victory for Toronto.
In a third period that saw Kyle Clifford and Brenden Dillon drop the glove, Simmonds and Adam Lowry we’re both assessed 10 minute misconducts after some words were exchanged in the faceoff circle late in regulation time.
The particular game followed some bad blood that stemmed from their Dec. 5th meeting in Winnipeg. That game saw Jets defenseman Neal Pionk suspended two games for kneeing Rasmus Sandin. Later in the game, Jason Spezza kneed Pionk in the head was suspended six games.
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An appeal brought Spezza’s suspension down to four games.
Simmonds, like he was in the last meeting, was physical in that contest and accumulated 14 penalty minutes.
With Simmonds into the lineup, Nicholas Aube-Kubel will be a healthy scratch for the first time this season.
“He’s led the way for us physically but I think there’s other areas [of his game] that haven’t quite come together yet is what we talked about.” Maple Leafs Sheldon Keefe said of Aube-Kubel. “Him coming out of the lineup is less frankly less about him and more about about getting Wayne involved.
“But at the same time, my message to Kubie is he just hasn’t done enough to where he’s not part of that conversation about who is coming out.”
Aube-Kubel has a team-high 20 hits through five games. Signed a one-year, $1 million contract with the Maple Leafs this summer, the player was identified by Keefe as someone who can replace the speed in the bottom six that was vacated when Ilya Mikheyev departed in the off-season for the Vancouver Canucks.
Playing on a fourth line, there hasn’t been much opportunity for Aube-Kubel, who is averaging a team-low nine minutes of ice time.
With Simmonds in and Aube-Kubel out, the Leafs jumbled up their bottom-six forward group. Zach Aston-Reese moved up to skate With Alex Kerfoot and Calle Jarnkrok while, Simmonds will skate on the right side of David Kampf and Pierre Engvall.