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Earlier this morning, the Toronto Maple Leafs recalled 2017 first-round pick, Timothy Liljegren, along with Martin Marincin.

At 20 years old, Liljegren was technically on the opening day roster this season, but has yet to suit up in an NHL game. Since being loaned to the Marlies in October, the Swedish right-handed defenceman has played top-pairing minutes and recorded 13 points in 24 games.

His recall likely indicates that Tyson Barrie will miss some time with an ankle injury after blocking a shot in Edmonton.

New Pairings

Barrie had just begun regular shifts on the top pair with Morgan Rielly, so his injury will cause some redistribution of minutes. It will be interesting to see if Sheldon Keefe reunites Rielly with Cody Ceci, or gives Marlies graduate Justin Holl a chance on the top pair.

In any case, the most likely third pairing will be Travis Dermott on the left side, with Liljegren making his NHL debut on the right.

Both Dermott and Liljegren played on the Marlies together briefly until Dermott was recalled around this time in the 2017-18 season. There has been much excitement about Liljegren’s potential to jump into the NHL and he became a fixture on the Marlies’ right side, just as Dermott did on the left.

Liljegren showed his offensive capabilities in his AHL rookie season, recording one of the highest points per game by an 18-year-old defenseman in league history. Injuries seemed to stifle his offensive progress, but Liljegren continued to develop under Sheldon Keefe into a defenceman that can play both sides of the puck. He was essential to the Marlies 2018 Calder Cup win and has consistently played top minutes in all situations for the team.

For those who remember a mononucleosis-suffering, small defenceman from the 2017 NHL entry draft, this is not the same player. Liljegren is officially listed at 6’0″, 198 lbs, and noticeably bigger in interviews and on the ice. He isn’t known for his physical style of play, but has the ability to lay a solid check and wear his opponent down.

Cap-Related Stuff

You may have noticed that the Leafs technically recalled Marincin and Liljegren on an emergency basis. This means that the Leafs would have had to provide the league with evidence that their playing strength was to drop below 12 forwards and 6 defencemen.

In simple terms: Barrie will miss at least one game.

The importance of the emergency condition is that the ‘Holiday Roster Freeze’ begins on December 19th, and players cannot be loaned until the freeze ends on December 28th. There are two exceptions to that rule, and one is the emergency recall. This means that when Barrie is healthy, both Marincin and Liljegren are not only eligible to be loaned to the Marlies, but they must be loaned as part of the Emergency Recall conditions.

The other exception is one that is particularly integral to Marincin’s transactional roller coaster.

Players recalled after December 11th are eligible to be sent down until midnight on December 23rd, under the condition that they do not require waivers. While Marincin technically does not yet require waivers, he would after spending one more day on the roster.

So after December 19th, Marincin will be waiver eligible and cannot be sent down, right? Wrong.

Since this is an emergency recall, time on the roster does not contribute to the 30 day/10 game limit to waiver exemption. He now has an entirely new set of 10 games to play before he becomes waiver eligible, and there is no restriction to the number of days he can be on the roster.

To simplify things, the Leafs have essentially manoeuvred Marincin so that he can stay on the roster and not require waivers to return to the Marlies when Barrie is healthy.

Expectations

If the third pairing is indeed Dermott – Liljegren, there is a good chance they receive heavily sheltered minutes and plenty of offensive zone starts. Liljegren sees a lot of powerplay time with the Marlies, and he’s replacing the Leafs number one PP defenceman. He could see some special teams time up in the NHL, but the score of the game will dictate much of that.

Keefe has placed a lot of confidence in Liljegren with the Marlies. If Liljegren gets off to a strong start, he may get the opportunity to run with it.

Overall, his first game in the NHL doesn’t have to be his best. The hope is that Liljegren gets a chance to show his upside When he has the time, he can make a great first pass or skate the puck up the ice, in the offensive zone he is patient and often finds his teammates at the backdoor. Defensively, he can stop the rush before his own blue line, and find help down low to clear the zone.

If things don’t go well, Liljegren has plenty of time to refine his game. He still has three years on his Entry-Level Contract (thanks to two ELC slides), three years of waiver exemption, and is exempt from the Seattle expansion draft. He’s only 20 years old and not finished developing.

If things do go well, there is a lot to be excited for. Not only does Liljegren have three years left on this deal, he only costs $863,333 against the cap. The fact that he’s had one more ELC slide than Sandin means the Leafs could keep Liljegren on a 21 man roster without trading any contracts.

Liljegren does have $400,000 of potential Performance Bonuses that would hinder a team using LTIR, but the fact that he was on the opening day roster when the Leafs placed their players on LTIR means the Leafs had a Performance Bonus relief pool of exactly $400,000.