If Kristians Rubins and/or Hudson Elynuik, two players from the reigning ECHL champion Newfoundland Growlers, dress for the Toronto Maple Leafs in their NHL exhibition game against the Ottawa Senators tonight at Mile One Centre, they won’t be the only ones on a Mile One bench who once skated in St. John’s as a member of the home side.
D.J. Smith, Ottawa’s new head coach, spent five seasons with the AHL’s St. John’s Maple Leafs (1997-2002), appearing in 337 games.
The 42-year-old Smith, who was a Toronto assistant coach before being hired by the Senators, is actually third all-time in games played for the AHL Leafs, behind only Nathan Dempsey and Guy Lehoux. His 908 penalty minutes with St. John’s is also the third most in franchise history behind Shawn Thornton and Lehoux.
The Senators are bringing 25 players to St. John’s and outside of defenceman Dylan DeMelo, forwards Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Chris Tierney, and goaltender Anders Nilsson, it is mostly a group of bubble players and rookies.
A couple of the rookies have Newfoundland connections.
Forward and Michigan native Josh Norris is the son of former NHLer Dwayne Norris of St. John's. The 20-year-old Norris, who was a first -ound draft pick of the San Jose Sharks in 2017, was traded to the Senators just over a year ago in the deal that sent Erik Karlsson to San Jose. A Hobey Baker nominee last season, he left the University of Michigan to sign an entry-level contract with the Senators.
Parker Kelly, signed by Ottawa as an undrafted free agent two years is another 20-year-old centre with some ties to the province. The Camrose, Alta., native who played with the WHL champion Prince Albert Raiders last season, has a grandmother from St. John’s and still has relatives here.
None of the ex-Leafs — Connor Brown, Nikita Zaitsev, Tyler Ennis and Ron Hainsey — who joined Ottawa in the off-season are playing either. For that matter, neither are defencemen Cody Ceci and Ben Harpur, acquired by Toronto in the trade that turned Brown and Zaitsev into Senators.