NIAGARA FALLS — Nikita Zaitsev is hoping his “unbelievable” summer season interprets right into a constantly good winter.
The Maple Leafs defenceman, about to embark on the second season of a seven-year contract that carries a wage cap hit of $four.5-million US, acknowledged on Saturday that he was not the identical participant mentally when he returned to the Toronto lineup late in January after lacking 17 video games due to a foot damage.
“Arduous to say … no confidence in your self,” Zaitsev mentioned following the second day of coaching camp on the Gale Centre. “In case you miss only one sport, it’s fairly arduous to return again, when you miss two video games.
“After I missed six weeks, it’s … it’s not excuses, I’m telling you the way I used to be final 12 months. That’s what I really feel like — I can’t hold myself on the identical stage. I began the season actually good and I used to be assured in each sport, in each minute what I did on the ice, after that it was not going properly.”
Zaitsev broke a bone in his proper foot whereas blocking a shot in Detroit towards the Purple Wings on Dec. 15, and didn’t play once more till Jan. 31.
Zaitsev’s ice time dropped to a level because the common season wound down as he battled to be constant, although he did end second amongst Leafs with a mean of 22 minutes 13 seconds a sport, 19 seconds behind defence accomplice Jake Gardiner. And Zaitsev was second in ice time whereas the Leafs had been shorthanded, serving to Toronto end 11th within the Nationwide Hockey League in penalty-killing.
The 26-year-old Zaitsev was buoyed by his play for Russia on the world championship after the Leafs had been eradicated within the first spherical of the Stanley Cup playoffs by the Boston Bruins, and now Zaitsev is able to take a refreshed outlook into the pre-season after which when the video games start to rely within the standings.
“I picked (some confidence) up within the worlds,” Zaitsev mentioned. “It was a fairly good event for me. I used to be perhaps relaxed a bit bit in my head.”
Zaitsev additional put his thoughts comfortable in the course of the summer season when he and spouse Margo loaded their two daughters into the household car in Moscow and launched into a memorable highway journey, driving via Finland, Sweden and south via Europe earlier than winding up in Forte dei Marmi, Italy, for a month of trip.
It’s not the primary time Zaitsev has holidayed in Italy, the place he rents a home. What does he get pleasure from about that a part of the world?
“All the pieces,” Zaitsev mentioned. “A lot of folks I do know. Good climate, good meals.”
Quite a lot of days had been spent on the seaside with daughters Sonia and Vera, who was born in Toronto final September simply as Leafs coaching camp began.
And a cellphone name once in a while from coach Mike Babcock helped hold Zaitsev in a correct state of mind.
“The No. 1 factor for an athlete (is having a coach who believes in you),” Zaitsev mentioned. “It’s going to remain within the locker room, however he does an excellent job (with) that. He talks. He calls everyone.”
Babcock’s behavior is one which gamers have come to count on and respect.
“We talked loads about that, confidence,” Babcock mentioned of Zaitsev. “However when you discuss to each participant who is available in, you speak about three issues they need to work on, they all the time speak about consistency and confidence (as two).
“It’s the NHL, it’s arduous to have your confidence on a regular basis however you must get again on observe and I feel an enormous a part of that’s having an entire life, having one thing to do exterior the rink apart from enthusiastic about hockey.”
There’s little question Zaitsev has as a lot with a busy family. Vera took her first steps “a few days in the past,” Zaitsev proudly informed a few reporters.
Quickly, the main target shall be on getting again to a stage on the ice that Babcock and the Leafs can admire each night time, not simply once in a while.
“I’m simply comfortable to be right here this 12 months,” Zaitsev mentioned. “I’m completely wholesome, I’m excited, numerous good issues occurred this summer season with the staff.
“I feel I can do higher, for positive — simply do my job higher.”
NO ARGUMENT FROM TAVARES
NIAGARA FALLS — John Tavares didn’t flinch.
You may need heard how he turned down the gives of a number of groups, together with the one which he captained for 5 seasons, the New York Islanders, to signal with the Maple Leafs on July 1.
Lou Lamoriello, who departed the Leafs to take over the Islanders and failed in convincing Tavares to remain, lately informed the New York Put up that there was no “aftermath” with Tavares’ departure as a result of the Islanders didn’t win in the course of the participant’s tenure on Lengthy Island.
Tavares, who has the type of character and management that may have served him properly as Leafs captain — as an alternative, he shall be an alternate with Patrick Marleau and Morgan Rielly — on Saturday was requested about Lamoriello’s ideas.
“Nicely, you have a look at time there within the 9 years, we made the playoffs thrice, we received previous the primary spherical as soon as, so we fell wanting the place we wished to get to and and we didn’t have as a lot constant success as we wish,” Tavares mentioned.
“Being the captain there so long as I used to be, I ought to shoulder loads of that duty in not doing a adequate job and main that staff. It’s all the time one thing that I want I may have achieved a greater job of, however I do know I gave it all the things I had.
“Trying again, I’ve no regrets in the best way I carried out, the best way I ready and the best way I approached every day. I gave it all the things I had, I simply want we had extra success and I had achieved a greater job.”
Little surprise Tavares already is turning into a well-liked man amongst his Leafs teammates, despite the fact that the pre-season has but to start.
On the ice, Tavares and linemate Mitch Marner proceed to search out chemistry with one another, and coach Mike Babcock is pondering the thought of utilizing the pair to kill penalties.
“I would love Mitch and John to kill a bit bit on the finish of energy performs,” Babcock mentioned, “however they should be good killers. It’s idea and it’s good for his or her ice time. I don’t care about that, I like profitable.”
Each Tavares, who killed penalties for the Isles, and Marner, who has not had that process in two seasons for the Leafs, are open to the thought.
“He can do all of the skating and I can simply backcheck and watch,” Tavares mentioned with a smile. “If that’s the case, I take loads of delight in that. I’ve discovered loads of issues on the opposite facet (defensively) and you are taking loads of delight in going on the market and having the ability to shut down the opposite staff’s greatest gamers (when) being down a person.”
Mentioned Marner: “Sounds thrilling. I used to penalty-kill in junior. It’s a distinct animal within the NHL, however it’s one thing I might positively look into and love to do.”
Like the remainder of the Leafs, Tavares has been impressed with the help the membership has had at camp from followers, volunteers and the city of Niagara Falls, calling it “phenomenal.”
On the entire, Tavares continues to get comfy in his new NHL colors.
“It’s all new,” Tavares mentioned. “It’s arduous to say that it’s regular, however I feel being on the ice, enjoying the sport the best way I method it, is all regular to me.
“Studying the system and the fellows I’m enjoying with, the extra you do it, the extra comfy you get, you begin to perceive. Loads of these issues that you concentrate on turn out to be instinctive, simply turn out to be behavior.”
SANDIN HAVING A BLAST
NIAGARA FALLS — Rasmus Sandin isn’t positive the place he shall be enjoying hockey this season however he can fear about that later.
The Maple Leafs’ first-round decide this previous June is having an excessive amount of of time at his first NHL coaching camp to suppose too far forward.
“First off, it’s loads of enjoyable to be right here round all the professional gamers,” Sandin mentioned, naming Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly as two who’ve been useful. “Simply to see how they’re figuring out, see how they prepare and see how they act exterior the ice. It’s expertise for us youthful guys.”
The 18-year-old Sandin was a useful defenceman for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds final season, placing up 45 factors in 51 video games, adopted by 13 factors in 24 playoff video games, earlier than the Leafs picked him 29th total. He signed a three-year entry-level cope with the Leafs in July, and it’s probably he’ll spend 2018-19 with Rogle of the Swedish Hockey League, although the Toronto Marlies are also an choice. Sending him again to the Soo wouldn’t greatest serve his growth.
“No (choice), under no circumstances,” Sandin mentioned. “We’ll see. Wherever I find yourself, it’s going to be good for me.”