Big expectations for small forward Ennis with Leafs

Tyler Ennis hopes to wear his familiar No. 63 for the Maple Leafs this season — and knows if he were 6-foot-3 his path would be easier.

But the smallest player at Toronto’s upcoming training camp is geared for a big opportunity. The Leafs have changed some of their bottom-six forwards, letting Leo Komarov and apparently Dominic Moore go the free-agent route, and trading Matt Martin to the Islanders.

Candidates to move into centre and wing roles include Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, Josh Leivo and newcomers Par Lindholm, Josh Jooris, Carl Grundstrom, Pierre Engvall and Ennis, the latter joining the main body of the team’s summer scrimmage on Wednesday.

Ennis is coming off a rather humbling 2017-18 campaign, where a trade from his long-time address in Buffalo to the Minnesota Wild saw his season go sideways. The Wild ended up buying out the final year of his contract, which freed him for the Leafs, albeit with a hefty pay cut from $4.6 million US to $650,000 on a one-year deal.

“It didn’t work out there,” said Ennis, of 22 points in 73 games with limited ice time in Minny. “But it was a learning experience and I’m just excited for the opportunity to get going here. I just have to put in the work, be determined, be excited, be motivated.”

Ennis, who is listed at 5-foot-9 and 161 pounds, has thrived in the big-man’s game that came out of the last lockout and continues to see industrial-sized players moved aside for flash and finish around the net. Ennis was a three-time 20-goal scorer for Buffalo and had that team’s last playoff game-winner in 2011, before concussion and groin issues (eventual double hernia surgery) began hampering him in 2015 and ’16.

Ennis hinted that the Wild’s preference for a bulky lineup marginalized him.

Tyler Ennis skates during a Leafs scrimmage at the MasterCard Centre on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2018. (Ernest Doroszuk/Toronto Sun)

“That’s was one of the things in Minnesota, they really liked heavier play,” Ennis said. “And I’m not the biggest guy, obviously, so I have to use my speed and skill.”

That could make the Edmonton native a popular part of today’s go-go Leafs under Mike Babcock, at least in the regular season. There was some speculation Ennis might have tried a PTO contract with the Oilers had the Leafs not made an offer.

“If I was playing against Toronto, they were a very fun team to just watch,” Ennis said. “They’re a talented team and I’m very happy to be a part of that because I feel it fits my skill set.”

The former first-round pick of Buffalo, who has turned out to be one of the most durable players selected back in 2008, also finds it ironic to be on the other side of the Peace Bridge rivalry.

“That’s what stands out to me, how many Leaf fans were always there,” Ennis said of the racket Toronto supporters make at Sabre home games. “Not just in Buffalo, but it seems you pay attention to anything in hockey, and there are Leaf fans everywhere. That’s pretty special to be a part of that.”

Ennis is leaving it to Babcock as to where he fits in best; his preferred spot on left wing, at centre or the right side.

“The message (from Babcock) was just work hard, compete and there’ll be an opportunity. It’s something we’ll find out at camp.”

Ennis was flying around Wednesday with the likes of Kapanen, Nazem Kadri, Connor Brown, Leivo and Zach Hyman.

“When I originally came here (after signing in early July) I got to meet everybody and know everybody. Today was a good day of work. It’s nice being out here with these guys to get some chemistry, get used to them, kind of figure out how people play, styles and what-not. We’ll figure (the rest) out in camp.”

Despite all those trips to Toronto for divisional games, the Big Smoke is a big mystery to him.

“It’s a little bit bigger than Buffalo and Minnesota,” Ennis smiled. “There are some things to get used to.”

He’ll hang on to 63 if the Leafs allow high numbers in the post Lou Lamoriello age, as it was a lucky charm in camp with the Sabres so many years ago.

“I’m just working on a lot of things. I think trying to be on the ice as much as possible is important. You can work hard in the gym, but the most important things are on the ice, to try and skate a lot.

“I know what’s in front of me, I know the opportunity that I have. I know what’s at stake. I’m competitive, I want this and I want to do well.”

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A selection of Toronto forwards from over the years who were 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds or less:

Lloyd (Shrimp) Andrews 5-foot-4, 140 pounds (1921-25)

Max Bentley 5-foot-8, 158 pounds (1947-53)

Brian Bradley 5-foot-8 160 pounds (1990-92)

George Carey 5-foot-6 140 pounds (1923-24)

Les Costello 5-foot-8, 158 pounds (1948-49)

Harry Darragh 5-foot-1, 145 pounds (1931-33)

Ernie Godden 5-foot-7, 154 pounds (1981-82)

Bob Gracie 5-foot-8, 155 pouns (1930-33)

Art Jackson 5-foot-8, 155 pounds (1934-45)

Gerry Lowrey 5-foot-8, 150 pounds (1927-29)

Johnny McCreedy 5-foot-8, 160 pounds (1941-45)

Harry Meeking 5-foot-7, 160 pounds (1917-19)

Reg Reid 5-foot-8, 138 pounds (1924-26)

Mickey Roach 5-foot-7, 160 pounds (1919-20)

Eddie Rodden 5-foot-7, 150 pounds (1927-28)

Gord Spence 5-foot-7 150 pounds (1925-26)

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Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies