The Toronto Maple Leafs will be without winger Ilya Mikheyev for a minimum of eight weeks after he broke his thumb during the team's final preseason game on Saturday.
"It's a big loss for us, it's unfortunate for Ilya who was having an excellent camp for us," Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said on Monday. "He was back in the gym here, training and doing all of that and doing what he can to make sure he stays ready and so we'll obviously be here ready for him when he comes back."
Mikheyev was injured in the first period when he fell awkwardly after a cross-check by Ottawa Senators defenseman Dillon Heatherington.
Mikheyev spent the last week practicing on a line with John Tavares and William Nylander and seemed poised to start in that spot when the regular season gets underway on Wednesday. Instead, Mikheyev will have surgery this week to repair his broken thumb, a devastating blow for a player who seemed determined to break out of a scoring slump, one that saw him registering a 6.5 percent shooting percentage during the 2020-'21 season.
"I know how determined he is wanting to continue to grow his game and make an impact," Leafs captain John Tavares said of Mikheyev on Saturday. "We love his attitude and work ethic, the type of person he is. He's just getting more and more comfortable in his own skin here."
It's the second major injury for Mikheyev during his tenure in Toronto. During the 2019-'20 season, he suffered a skate laceration that forced him to miss three months. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed his return until the 2020 NHL Playoffs when hockey resumed.
His tenure in Toronto also included a reported trade request in the summer that was denied by the club.
Mikheyev will likely head onto the long-term injured reserve (LTIR) when the Maple Leafs submit their final roster to NHL Central Registry and start the season on LTIR. The additional $1.645 million (or as close to it as possible) that the team can dip over the $81.5 million salary cap will help the Leafs keep additional players on the active roster.
At practice on Monday, the Leafs had defenseman Timothy Liljegren skating on the bottom pair alongside Rasmus Sandin, suggesting that it could be an all-Swedish defense pair on opening night when Toronto hosts the Montreal Canadiens. Had Mikheyev been healthy, Liljegren's non-waiver status may have made it so that Travis Dermott would slot into bottom-pair spot instead.
Dermott skated as the extra defenseman at practice on Monday.
"Some of the decisions are controlled by the salary cap," Keefe said of final roster moves. "All of that affects every decision, that's just the reality of a flat-cap world."