What is the jersey number? Just ask the new Maple Leafs RS News


RS News

Jordie Benn is about as brilliant a veteran as they come. Bearded, 35, knows his role as a left defenseman heading into his 13th NHL season for his sixth NHL team.

But walking around these days as Leaf Leaf seems to have taken the child out of him.

“You see some of the legends that have played here,” Benn said Thursday. “I mean I saw Wendel Clark. I don’t get a star in any way. I’ve seen more famous people in my life, but I used that guy’s stick when I was a kid. That was my very first white Bauer Supreme stick with a Wendel Clark curve.

“And I grew up watching him and Doug Gilmour. And I saw those guys and I was like, ‘Holy cow, that’s cool.’

Such is the draw for the Maple Leafs — the reputation of the brand, the reputation of the team — that gives them free agency that helped them add Benn, Victor Mete, Ilya Samsonov and Calle Järnkrok and draft Zach Aston-Reese for a professional tryout.

It was a dream to play in the NHL and to get to play for a franchise like this, that means everything,” said Benn.

If Wednesday’s practice was a chance for the team’s key players to express their confidence in the team heading into the season, Thursday’s first day of practice was a chance to see how some of the new guys fit in.

“There are a lot of guys who will push to challenge spots and force us to make decisions, which is good,” said coach Sheldon Keefe.

Mete is from Woodbridge, so signing with the Leafs is a hometown dream come true. He and Benn skated together, Mete on the right. Samsonov signed with the Leafs for one year, when other teams offered him more, because he believed the team could win. Järnkrok has signed for years because he believes in the system here. And Aston-Reese believes this is the place to start his career.

“There were a few options, but it came down to what is the best opportunity for me?” said Aston-Reese. “Toronto is a great place for that. It’s a great opportunity to win a trophy and they have a lot of tools here to improve. I’m a bit old, I’m 28, but I still have a lot of room to grow.”

Sometimes, however, with a franchise with such a history, getting the number you want can be a problem. The Leafs retired 13 numbers, representing 17 players.

And training camp numbers come with a bit of history. In the old days, anyone with a number over 31 meant they were too tall to make the team. That has changed, of course, but the trick is still there. Out of respect, veterans will receive the number of their choice.

But even that doesn’t always work out.

When he signed, Benn wrote to the recently retired Jason Spezza – his teammates in Dallas – to see if it was okay to wear 19.

“I came to Spezza and asked him to play his number as a joke. I thought it was funny,” said Benn. “I let him (Järnkrok) have it because there is something tied to 19.”

Benn ended up being 18, Järnkrok 19. Järnkrok had that number as a kid in Sweden and throughout his time in Nashville.

“If (Spezza) comes back, I’ll be sure to get him back,” Järnkrok said.

Mete is wearing 98, which represents the year he was born. Samsonov wears 35, another number that goes back to his youth. Aston-Reese has the number 12.

“It’s the number I wore in the North East,” Aston-Reese said. “Actually, it was given to me. I had a great job there. So I would like to continue with it.”

With the jobs up for grabs, all five veterans have some sort of inside track to NHL employment.

  • Järnkrok signed a four-year contract and worked on Auston Matthews’ line on the first day of camp.

“He’s one of the best players in the league, so it’s great to watch him,” said Järnkrok. “He is as good as they say.”

  • Samsonov will share goaltending duties with Matt Murray, who is betting on that one-year contract.

“It was worth it for our team and for the future,” said Samsonov.

  • Benn and Mete will appear to be the beneficiaries of the suddenly absent blue line with Rasmus Sandin unsigned, Timothy Liljegren (hernia) out at least six weeks and the Leafs announcing Jake Muzzin will be out at least a week with a bad back.

“I think I have a good chance,” said Mete. “It’s good that I can play on the left and the right side so I can move around everything. And I will work hard in the camp here and try to find my place. “

The team practiced in two groups, and will play two exhibition games on Saturday at the Scotiabank Arena.

“We actually have three weeks here to look at different things,” Keefe said. “That’s really what camp is for.”

Notes: Pierre Engvall (ankle) skated off Thursday. … Freshman Adam Gaudette skated with captain John Tavares and winger Mitch Marner. …Returning from two seasons in Europe, Denis Malgin skated with William Nylander and rookie Pontus Holmberg.


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